SAN JOSE -- To call Joonas Donskoi a secret weapon for the San Jose Sharks this season might be an understatement. Certainly, the secret is out by now, though most of his teammates had never heard of the rookie from Finland before training camp began.
Now Donskoi, approaching his Stanley Cup Playoffs debut, is a fixture at left wing on the Sharks second line with center Logan Couture and right wing Joel Ward.
How Donskoi responds to his first NHL postseason could be a key to how far the Sharks advance.
"[Donskoi has] been great," Couture said. "He's been a surprise for us. I think if you asked everyone in this room before the season if they knew who he was, I don't think you'd get many guys saying they did. He's come in, he's played some big minutes, he's scored some big goals. He's been fun to play with."
Donskoi had 36 points (11 goals, 25 assists) in his first NHL season.
"We wouldn't be here without him and his contributions," Sharks coach Peter DeBoer said. "He's worked his way into being a key guy for us."
Donskoi is not your typical NHL rookie. He spent five seasons playing for Karpat in Finland's top professional hockey league, The Liiga. Karpat won the league championship each of the past two seasons, and Donskoi was the postseason MVP last season, when he had six goals and 16 assists in 19 games. He went to the playoffs in each of his five seasons.
"Of course, it's going to help," Donskoi said of his postseason experience. "The first couple of years we didn't have success, and then the last two years in Finland we won the [title], so I kind of know what it's going to take to succeed. It's a different league, but it's still the same game."
Donskoi is a two-way player who takes pride in being responsible defensively, and DeBoer said the forward's game is well suited to the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
"He's not a perimeter player," DeBoer said. "He plays inside, he plays hard, he's hard on the puck. He's a possession guy. For me, that's everything playoff hockey's about."
Couture said Donskoi's two-way game will help the Sharks match up against the physical teams they'll face.
"I think when you play teams that make the playoffs, they're physical, they're strong," Couture said. "They all work hard and they all compete, and that's what Joonas brings as well."
Donskoi said he learned some valuable lessons in Finland about how to handle the postseason pressure and grind.
"You have to take it as a great opportunity," Donskoi said. "You don't have to force anything. You just have to enjoy it day by day and not think any further. You have to enjoy it and enjoy every day. Live in the moment. That's the most important thing.
"I am honored to play in the playoffs right away. It's such a great opportunity. I'm going to enjoy it, and I think we have a great team and we have a chance to do whatever we want."