Joey Tenute hasn't given up his dream of playing full-time in the National Hockey League.
His one-game stint with the Washington Capitals in 2005-06 only has fueled the fire to get back to the game's pinnacle. So much so that Tenute is willing to take a pretty dramatic detour. For that reason, no one should be surprised to see the 25-year-old from Hamilton, Ontario, playing center for Jokerit when the Finnish power hosts the Pittsburgh Penguins in an exhibition game in Helsinki on Oct. 2.
In 2006-07, Tenute was a point-per-game player in the American Hockey League, starring for Hershey as it reached the Calder Cup championship for the second-straight season. But he never received a call-up to the Capitals. Last season, Tenute scored 21 goals and 49 points for the AHL's San Antonio Rampage, yet still couldn't get a sniff of NHL interest.
Hence, Tenute's interest in Europe.
A student of the game, he knows a solid European career can provide an alternate entry route into the NHL. After all, Detroit's Brian Rafalski went undrafted, and after college went to Finland. A decade later, he is an all-star with three Stanley Cup rings.
Boston's Glen Metropolit spent four years on the shuttle between the AHL and NHL, including several stops in Hershey and Washington -- just like Tenute. After failing to earn a full-time job with the Capitals, Metropolit packed his bags for the same Jokerit club Tenute is trying and turned a successful two-season stint in the Finnish capital into permanent NHL duty three years ago. After a NHL career-best 33 points with the Boston Bruins last season, he signed with the Philadelphia Flyers during the summer.
"By no means am I going to Europe to give up on the NHL," Tenute told NHL.com from Helsinki. "Whether I have a long career in Europe or go back to the NHL, this is a good stepping stone for me.
"I talked to a lot of people before I made my decision, and guys like Brian Rafalski and Glen Metropolit kept coming up in those conversations. These are guys that are very skilled guys, great skaters, but maybe not so big as to catch the eyes of NHL scouts right away in North America. Now, their careers are speaking for themselves."
Tenute is very similar to those two players in that he is high-skilled but lacks impressive size. Despite scoring 112 points for the Ontario Hockey League's Sarnia Sting in 2002-03, the 5-foot-9 Tenute fell into the eighth round of the 2003 Entry Draft before being tabbed by New Jersey at No. 261.
In four minor-league seasons -- including three at the AHL level -- Tenute averaged 60 points a season. That should be impressive enough of a resume to merit more than a one-game call-up, Tenute reasons.
"I know the game has changed a lot in the past few years and size is not as much an issue, but there are still a lot of things that are out of a player's hands when it comes to what happens," Tenute says. "I had three good years in the AHL and just the one call-up. This is me trying to do it from a different angle."
Glen Hanlon is the new coach of Jokerit, joining the team less than a year after being fired by Washington. He coached Tenute in the Capitals' system and knows what the talented center brings to the table. Hanlon was one of the people Tenute consulted before making his decision to go to Europe.
"He can skate, he can score, he's strong enough to play in the NHL," Hanlon told NHL.com. "I told him that the good thing here is that, at your age, at the end of two years you can go in any direction you want. You basically have three options open to you if you do well. You can stay here with the team for another year, you can find another team in Europe that wants you or you can go back to the NHL.
"It's not like Joey is dying to go back, but out of the three options, going back is at the head of the list right now.”
And Tenute may well get that chance.
Jokerit is one of the better teams in Finland and its games are heavily scouted by European-based NHL scouts, who will be seeing Tenute without the preconceived notions formed by the North American scouts. Plus, to start the season, he will play top-line minutes, centering a powerful line that features two other NHL-level talents.
"I'm playing with Jani Rita, who played in Edmonton with the Oilers, and Janne Lahti, who played with Hamilton last year," Tenute said. "These two guys are amazing. Rita might be the fastest player I have seen in my life, and Janne Lahti is a great skater, too."
It appears Tenute is doing a pretty good job of keeping up with his quick linemates. Jokerit just finished the annual Nordic Cup, a preseason tournament of the top teams from Finland and Sweden, and Tenute was close to a point-per-game player.
He hopes to be as effective when the defending Eastern Conference champion Penguins arrive in Helsinki for a final tune-up before opening the NHL regular season against Ottawa in the two-game NHL Premiere series in Stockholm on Oct. 4-5. If he can do well against Sidney Crosby and Co., it will be the first small step in Tenute's long journey to return to the NHL.
"I've played one NHL game and one exhibition game in my career," Tenute said. "To have the opportunity to play against the Penguins and players of that caliber is so exciting. Let's put it this way -- it's a game that I have marked on my calendar."