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Jokinen, Prust eager to settle in, move on

by Josh Brewster
LOS ANGELES - The deal between the Calgary Flames and New York Rangers that relocated Olli Jokinen and Brandon Prust to New York was the worst kept secret in hockey over the past few days, on hold while various details, including Ales Kotalik's waiver of his no-trade clause, were ironed out.

When all was said and done, Prust and Jokinen made their Rangers debuts at Staples Center in Los Angeles on Tuesday in a 2-1 loss to the Kings.

Jokinen's first appearance in a Rangers jersey came against the club that drafted him with the No. 3 pick of the 1997 Entry Draft. He had four shots on goal in the game. 

"I can get some sleep for the first time in a few days and move on," said Jokinen, who joins his sixth club. "It's been pretty hectic the last couple of days. It's a hard business. You have to be prepared to play, that's the bottom line."

Jokinen, a four-time 30-goal scorer, knew that the 11 he had managed in 56 games with Calgary didn't reflect his compensation.

"You make $5 million (Jokinen earns $5.5 million), 11 goals is not going to cut it," said Jokinen after the deal was done.

Jokinen, who will represent Finland in his third Olympics next month in Vancouver, remains optimistic that he can turn the season around.

"I'm absolutely (optimistic)," he said. "There is nothing that I can do about the past. I've got to stay positive and move on. At the end of the day, it doesn't matter who scores the goals and gets points."

Jokinen and Prust, 25, will contribute to the final chapter of the Rangers' season. Beyond that, it's anyone's guess as both will be free agents at the end of the season.

Prust started his Rangers career with a bang, receiving a boarding penalty early in the first period when he rammed Kings defenseman Jack Johnson into the end boards. In the second, Prust took an instigator penalty during a fight with Los Angeles' Brandon Segal, which resulted in an automatic 10-minute misconduct to go along with his five-minute major for the fight.

"I haven't had an instigator all year," Prust said. "Haven't had too many minors, either. I ended up having two today, so I have to be careful of that. I just went over to him (Segal) and gave him a shove. He dropped his gloves, actually, before me and I ended up with the instigator."

"Brandon competed,” Rangers coach John Tortorella said after the loss.

Prust, whose 19 fighting majors are second only to Tampa Bay's Zenon Konopka, could find himself a useful part of the Rangers' scheme. The team's forward ranks could use some jam, and enforcer Donald Brashear recently has found himself scratched. Prust's future in New York just might be brighter than big-scorer Jokinen, who carries a heavy price tag and might be nothing more than a rental for the Blueshirts. Prust's presence also will serve as a push for Rangers tough guy Aaron Voros.

"Where (Prust and Jokinen) fit in, I'm still not sure how it's all going to work out," Tortorella said. 

In their first game, Jokinen played alongside Marian Gaborik and Vinny Prospal, the trio combining for nine shots. Prust saw action on the fourth line, with Erik Christensen and Artem Anisimov.

The Rangers will reserve judgment on Jokinen's status beyond this season. As it stands, the offense-starved club enters Wednesday's play sits 28th in goals per game (2.49). If Jokinen can achieve anything close to the production he had with the Florida Panthers, perhaps his big price tag won't stand in the way of his remaining in Manhattan. 

As for the departed players, the season represented a severe disappointment. Christopher Higgins came to New York as part of the Scott Gomez trade with Montreal. The Smithtown, N.Y. native hoped for hometown success with the Rangers, but it wasn't in the cards. Higgins' production trended downward dramatically over the past two seasons.  Last season in Montreal he scored just 12 goals in a season that saw him limited to 57 games due to groin and hand injuries. This season with the Rangers, he had just 6 goals and 14 points in 55 games.

Kotalik, who showed flashes of brilliance in Buffalo before a brief stop at the end of last season with Edmonton, now finds his career awash in questions as he jumps to Calgary.

Kotalik signed a three-year, $9 million deal with the Rangers over the summer, but was scratched in eight of his last nine games in New York. He scored just 22 points in 45 games. The four-time 20-goal scorer netted only 8 in 45 games for the Rangers before the trade.

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