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Jokinen Much More Than a Shootout Specialist

by Staff Writer / Dallas Stars

February 14, 2006

By John Tranchina

By now everyone has heard about how Stars winger Jussi Jokinen has been a tremendous superstar in the shootout, but it is time to recognize just how well he has been playing during the rest of the game.

The rookie Finn has been one of the Stars' top offensive players of late, making great plays with the puck and contributing significantly to the Stars' offensive success in a stretch where they have gone 14-5-1 in their last 20. While he has posted nine points in his last 11 games and was recently named to Finland's Olympic team, he gained widespread attention a couple of weeks ago when Dallas won three straight games by shootout, with Jokinen scoring in each one. That ran his shootout record to a perfect 8-for-8 on the season, as the Stars, not coincidentally, won each one.

No one else in the league with more than three attempts has been flawless, with the closest competitor being Columbus' Jaroslav Balastik, who has scored on 5 of 6 tries, and Washington's Alexander Ovechkin, who is 6-for-9.

"It's impressive," Stars defenseman Philippe Boucher said of Jokinen's shootout prowess. "Hopefully, it won't stop at eight, and even if it does, that might stand for a long, long time, eight in a row. I don't know, maybe 10 years from now, we'll look back and say eight in a row is still the number. Hopefully he makes it 15. Who knows what he's going to take it to?"

And not only has Jokinen scored in every Stars shootout this year, he has done so in spectacular fashion. In his first four, he used the same move, shooting low to the stick side, just inside the post. He utilized the same shot in shootouts six and seven.

In the Stars' fifth shootout, on NBC's first national TV broadcast against Boston on Jan. 14, Jokinen executed the very difficult 'fake forehand, drag puck back around sliding goalie with one hand' move, otherwise known as the Peter Forsberg maneuver. When pulled off successfully, that play just looks phenomenal. It stunned the world when Forsberg first used it in the shootout that won Sweden the gold medal in the 1994 Winter Olympics, and it is just as impressive now.

In the Stars' last shootout, against Detroit on Jan. 28, on NBC again, Jokinen went back to the Forsberg play and scored again.

Even though those are the only two moves he's used so far, Jokinen suggested he has a few more up his sleeve.

"Of course, you can't have just two moves, you have to have more," he said when asked if he had others waiting. "I think maybe next game, I'll have to try something else."

All the success in shootouts almost seems accidental. When Stars coach Dave Tippett first chose Jokinen as one of his three shooters, along with top offensive players Mike Modano and Sergei Zubov, more than a few observers shook their heads in wonder.

But after seeing Jokinen in action, people quickly understood.

"We tried a lot of people in training camp," Tippett said of why he originally selected Jokinen. "We did a lot of things in practice, just to try to get an idea of who our shooters would be, and he was a guy that really caught our eye that was very successful early. I think he was 3-for-3 in the pre-season, so we put him in and he's been successful."

"I knew he had some good moves, but I didn't expect him to be this good," said Stars goaltender Johan Hedberg, who works with all the players in practice on penalty shots. "I think it shocked everybody. He scored some goals in the pre-season that gave him a chance to be in the shootout lineup, and now, everybody knows him, he's the big shootout star."

Even Jokinen, just 22, has been somewhat surprised by the scope of his shootout success.

"It's been a big surprise for me," he admitted. "I'm just lucky that Tip gave me a chance at the beginning of season. After I scored the first, second, third (shootout goals), I got my confidence, which is pretty high now. I'm confident in myself that I'm going to score."

That confidence has spilled over into his regular game play and has helped Jokinen put together a very impressive season. In a year when other, more celebrated rookies have garnered all the attention, Jokinen has been mostly overlooked, even with the shootout success. As of Feb. 13, his 36 points ranked tied-for-sixth among NHL rookies and his 25 assists were tied for fourth.

But his smarts with the puck and his clutch playmaking have really benefited the Stars on their recent hot stretch. His 9 points in the last 11 games include a game-winning goal Jan. 23 in a 2-1 victory over Phoenix, and primary assists on nifty passes that led to game-tying goals in the late minutes of games against St. Louis and Detroit on Jan. 25 and 28 which enabled the Stars to reach the shootouts they subsequently won.

"He's played very well," Tippett said. "The last two, three weeks, he's been very good, playing with a lot of confidence, making good plays out there."

"His shootouts have been really outstanding, they've been mind-boggling, but just look at the plays he's making during the game," Stars winger Bill Guerin added. "He's been our best playmaker the past 10 games, and that can't be overlooked. He's been a very solid player for us all year."

One thing that has helped Jokinen's progress has been playing most of the season on the Stars' top line with Modano and fellow Finn Jere Lehtinen. Early on, it might have seemed like a curious experiment, but that group has developed excellent chemistry and really blend their talents well.

"He's been very unexpected," Modano said. "I think no one really knew him going into camp, and at the start of the season, but he did some fairly good things in training camp, and some of the games, that caught some people's eyes. He gained some confidence through that, and the more he's played, the more he's been able to feel a little bit more at ease."

"I think he's got way more confidence, making certain plays, and with Mo and Lehts, it seems like they've played together forever now," Zubov added. "I think you've got to give him credit, he's adjusted his game accordingly. Actually, it was pretty quick."

"It's a bit lucky I've spent the whole season with good players, playing with Modano and Lehtinen," Jokinen said. "They're great players. Modano is one of the best centers in the whole league right now, and Jere I think is one of the best players in the whole world. It's been great to play with those guys."

The presence of the veteran Lehtinen has helped off the ice as well, along with the four other Finnish Stars (Niko Kapanen, Antti Miettinen, Niklas Hagman and Janne Niinimaa). Having that guidance from players he can more readily relate to has undoubtedly paid major dividends for a rookie playing away from his homeland for the first time.

"I think the hardest thing for a player coming over from Europe is how quickly they get up and running and integrate into the North American lifestyle and to the NHL game," Tippett said. "When you have people around who have gone through that experience, the exact same way as he is, I think it really helps him. He listens to the insight those players have and he can really use that to his benefit."

Jokinen will continue to rely on Lehtinen, Kapanen and Miettinen for leadership as they all head to Torino for the Olympics. Jokinen wasn't initially named to the team, but was added to the roster as an injury replacement in January.

"They should have picked him right away," Lehtinen said. "That was a surprise, but that's the coach's choice. That's good he's going now. His first Olympics, it's going to be a good experience for him."

"It's a great honor," Jokinen said. "Watching the Olympic games as a little kid, now you have a chance to pull on the jersey for your homeland -- it's the best players in the whole world -- so it's going to be great."

While Tippett is crossing his fingers hoping none of the Stars competing in the Olympics gets hurt, he believes Jokinen will benefit from the experience.

"I think it's a great experience for him, because the level of hockey is so high and the speed of the game will be great," Tippett said. "I think Finland is going to have a very good team, so I think it will be a real good confidence boost for him going down the stretch."

And you've got to like Finland's chances if they get into a shootout.

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