Olli Jokinen was once a 21-year-old, learning to navigate his way through the ranks of professional hockey. More than 1,100 NHL games later, he’s got a pretty good idea of how to handle himself on and off the ice.
Nowadays, Jokinen is the one to instill the values necessary to succeed at hockey’s highest level to his younger peers. This season, he’s doing just that in Nashville.
“I try to lead by example,” Jokinen said. “I try to do the right things on the ice and off the ice, and obviously you try to help the younger players and make sure they feel comfortable on and off the ice. I think the best way to lead and do things right on and off is to talk to them a lot.”
Now 35, Jokinen signed a one-year deal with the Predators back in July, and has skated in all 12 of the team’s contests thus far in 2014-15. He still remains without a point on the campaign, but his contributions and value delve much deeper than the stat line.
“Younger guys, sometimes in their first or second year, they’re a little bit nervous playing with the older guys,” Jokinen said. “[Maybe they’re] just breaking into the League and they’re not sure what they’re supposed to do, so the older guys try to make sure that those players feel comfortable every time they step on the ice.”
Jokinen has been upping that comfort level with a number of Nashville forwards, especially those that he’s skated alongside early on.
“We talk a lot more before every game than I have with any other linemate,” Preds forward Colin Wilson said. “He gives a lot of confidence and we’ve built a lot of chemistry. He’s great out there on the ice. You can tell he’s been around and he makes the right reads and the right plays.”
Accustomed to playing center throughout his career, Jokinen has been counted on to make those plays from the wing thus far in Nashville. The ability to adapt and accept different roles is something that has contributed to Jokinen’s longevity over the past 17 seasons.
“While their talent allows them to make it this long, it’s also their attitude, so you want to emulate the way that they act,” Wilson said of the Predators veteran players. “[Jokinen is] one of those guys that you can tell not a lot phases him, which is a big component of playing pro hockey.”
“I think the older you get, you have to adjust,” Jokinen said. “You don’t necessarily get the same role that you’ve had in the past, so you’ve got to try to fit in well and do your role the best you can. It’s been a little different playing on the wing…but like I said, you have to be able to adjust.”
The Preds bench boss has also taken notice. Head Coach Peter Laviolette has coached against Jokinen for years, but he’s more than happy to have a character guy on his side now.
“Olli Jokinen has been on the power play his whole life and we’ve asked him to come in here and kill penalties and play the wing and help out [center Calle Jarnkrok],” Laviolette said. “That’s all he does every day. When that happens, your team evolves and becomes stronger.”
That willingness to do what is asked has undoubtedly contributed to the Preds successful start. For someone that has been around for a while, Jokinen certainly likes what he’s seen out of his new club through the first month, especially the mentality in the room.
“I think we’ve played a good team game,” Jokinen said. “We’ve got four lines going, and I think the big thing here is we believe that we can win every game. Our focus is on us and how we play. We believe that if we bring our ‘A’ game in every night, we have a good chance to come out with two points. That’s been good for us this year.”
And while that focus is prevalent around the club, Jokinen’s personal beliefs are also exemplary. After all, he’s had over 1,100 games to figure things out.
There’s no doubt that he has.
“The only thing that matters is winning hockey games,” Jokinen said. “As a player, you have to be willing to do whatever the coaches ask to try to help the team to win.”