Was it easy to replace Sidney Crosby in the lineup for a time last season? Jussi Jokinen says it was – only because the captain’s standard of play is so high that it’s impossible to reach.
“If you want to replace one player, I think the easiest is to replace Sidney Crosby because everybody understands there’s only one Sidney Crosby in the world. So there’s no extra pressure,” Jokinen said with a laugh. “You just try to be yourself and obviously it ended up working really good.”
Penguins general manager Ray Shero acquired Jokinen from Carolina just hours before last season’s trade deadline to add depth in Crosby’s indefinite absence after the captain went down with a broken jaw a few days earlier. And now a few months later, it’s a move that has turned out to be very rewarding for Pittsburgh.
“With ‘Sid’ being out we didn’t want to take any chances with our depth,” Shero explained at the time. “(The trade) gives us versatility and depth with Sid out. When Sid comes back it’s another option for the coach. You never know a few weeks down the line how your lineup will look like with injuries or whatever. Depth is important.”
You never know how your lineup will look going into the next year’s training camp, either. And after a short but busy offseason by Shero that saw a number of forwards on the playoff roster depart, it looks like Jokinen will be counted on by the coaching staff to be someone they need to step up and contribute in whatever roles he is given this season.
“You always want that responsibility, you want to be counted on for something big,” he said. “I think that’s what every guy kind of hopes, to have a big role on the team and a big impact on the team.”
Dan Bylsma mentioned Jokinen as a candidate to play in the top six on a line with Evgeni Malkin and James Neal, but right now the head coach has him skating on the third line with Brandon Sutter and Matt D’Agostini with former anchors Matt Cooke and Tyler Kennedy gone. They looked on point in the game action we’ve seen from them so far, combining for two goals on pretty plays in a scrimmage last Saturday.
“We are getting more comfortable with each other,” Jokinen said. “Obviously this is Matt’s first time in this organization and there are lots of new forechecks and stuff like that, so he’s learning all the time. I think we’ve been better and better every day.”
But while Jokinen is enjoying where he is at right now, especially skating next to his teammate for parts of four seasons in Carolina in Sutter, it doesn’t actually matter where Jokinen plays because of his versatility. He has the ability to play at any position on any line with any players, something he mastered out of necessity starting in his junior career back in his native Finland
“I think even playing juniors, it felt like one year I played left wing, next year center, next year right wing,” he said. “I think it went like that maybe 5-10 years. I think I learned to play every position and no position is kind of my favorite. It’s just wherever the team thinks is the best fit for me, that’s all good for me.
“I think it’s good for your career, you know? If you’re going to make a long career, I think it helps if you can be versatile and play different roles and different positions,” he said.
And the Penguins are hoping that versatility helps them this season.