SUNRISE, Fla. – After spending the majority of his career maneuvering up and down depth charts, veteran forward Jussi Jokinen was happy to finally carve out a new and far more consistent home on the ice with the Florida Panthers this past season.
Although he initially began the season bouncing between lines as usual, Jokinen eventually settled in with Vincent Trocheck and Reilly Smith on Florida’s high-scoring second line. The trio would go on to combine for a staggering 34 goals and 83 points in the 31 games before Trocheck was knocked out of the lineup with a lower-body injury on March 29.
“I had so much fun playing with Troch and Smitty,” Jokinen said after cleaning out his locker at the BB&T Center in April. “We had great chemistry and had so much fun all year. We’re kind of different type of players, but we played really well together.
“When everything goes well, it’s so much fun. When you score a coupe of goals of every game, everything seems so easy. We had so many days like that this season and it was so much fun to be a part of that line and a part of this team.”
With a new sense of consistency fueling his focus, the 33-year-old Jokinen finished his second season with the Panthers ranking second on the team in both points (60) and plus/minus (plus-25) in 81 games. His 42 assists were not only a career high, but also the most by a Panthers skater since defenseman Brian Campbell had 49 helpers in 2011-12.
“I’ll be the first guy to say that I liked the way I played this year,” said Jokinen, who is signed with the Panthers through the 2017-18 season. “Overall, I think I played a really good two-way role and was able to pot some points. I’ll just have to do the same thing next year again.”
As one of the most versatile forwards at head coach Gerard Gallant’s disposal, Jokinen’s exceptional two-way play also made him very effective in a variety of different special teams situations. The 5-foot-11, 198-pound native of Kalajoki, Finland ranked second among Panthers forwards in power-minutes (211:02) and shorthanded minutes (184:27), and was tied with Aleksander Barkov for the most shorthanded points (2).
“He means a lot to our team,” Gallant said of Jokinen earlier in the season. “We talk about him every day. We take him for granted sometimes, but he can play any position and plays all special teams for us. It’s really important. We really like him. He’s scoring lots of points and contributing in all areas.”
Jokinen scored 12 points (2-10—12) during his career-high 10-game point streak from Feb. 20 until March 12. The streak, which came to an end on March 15 against the New York Islanders, was the longest such run by a Panthers player since Olli Jokinen (no relation) in 2005-2006.
Jokinen tallied a season-high three points (1-2—3) to help lead the Panthers to a 7-4 win over the Buffalo Sabres on Feb. 9.
With Jokinen leading the way, the Panthers earned a much-needed victory despite playing without top-line center Aleksander Barkov, who was sidelined by an upper-body injury sustained against the Detroit Red Wings the night before.
"We needed to have a bounce-back game," Jokinen said after the game. "We didn't create enough (against Detroit), and we wanted to change that tonight."
GOAL OF THE YEAR
On a 2-on-1 break, Jokinen looks off Hurricanes defenseman Brett Pesce and elects to fire a blazing wrist shot over the glove of goaltender Eddie Lack for his 18th goal of the season.