Defenseman Jyrki Jokipakka will make his NHL debut tonight when the Dallas Stars take on the New Jersey Devils at Prudential Center.
“He had a real solid camp for us,” said Stars coach Lindy Ruff. “I thought through the preseason, he might have been the best young guy with my numbers. … I think we have an opportunity with three young guys here to get him in and see how he plays.”
Jokipakka, a seventh-round pick (195th overall) in 2011, played three seasons in Finland’s top league and made his North American debut last season with the Texas Stars. He was a key piece for that Texas team that won the 2014 Calder Cup.
The 23-year-old came into Dallas’ training camp expected to make a push for NHL time, and he did that with a strong performance. That strong showing gives the young blue liner some confidence as he prepares for his first NHL game.
“Of course it helps and you feel comfortable,” Jokipakka said.
Ruff said he isn’t expecting anything fancy from Jokipakka. The message for Jokipakka is the same as it is for all the team’s young defensemen.
“You’ve got to defend,” Ruff said. “Once you are in the zone, are you making the right reads? Are you making the right decisions? Are you defending? If the numbers aren’t good, it’s something I want to continue to work with these guys to get better.”
Jokipakka was paired with Jamie Oleksiak during Friday morning’s skate, meaning that Kevin Connauton is the expected healthy scratch on the blue line.
Jamie Benn, Tyler Seguin and Jason Spezza skated together during line rushes Friday morning, but Ruff indicated that may not be what he rolls out to start tonight’s game.
“I may not start them together tonight, but inside the game I may go to them,” Ruff said. “I want certain individuals to get comfortable with each other. I think we know what they can do on the offensive side of it, but we've got to clean up the defensive side. But it’s a great option to have.”
Curtis McKenzie is expected to be the healthy scratch among the forwards.
Kari Lehtonen was first off the ice, so he is tonight’s starter in goal for the Stars on the first night of a back-to-back.
Cory Schneider will start in goal for New Jersey.
Who: Dallas Stars at New Jersey Devils
Where: Prudential Center, Newark, New Jersey
When: 6:00 p.m. (puck drop 6:26 p.m.)
TV: Fox Sports Southwest
Radio: The Ticket 1310 AM/96.7 FM
Stars projected lineup
Jamie Benn – Tyler Seguin – Colton Sceviour
Erik Cole – Jason Spezza – Ales Hemsky
Antoine Roussel – Cody Eakin – Ryan Garbutt
Shawn Horcoff – Vernon Fiddler – Patrick Eaves
Alex Goligoski – Trevor Daley
Jordie Benn – Brenden Dillon
Jyrki Jokipakka – Jamie Oleksiak
Scratched: D Kevin Connauton, LW Curtis McKenzie
Injured: RW Valeri Nichushkin (groin/hip), D Sergei Gonchar (ankle), D Patrik Nemeth (arm laceration)
Devils projected lineup
Dainius Zubrus – Travis Zajac – Jaromi Jagr
Mike Cammalleri – Patrik Elias – Damien Brunner
Ryane Clowe – Adam Henrique – Michael Ryder
Tuomo Ruutu – Jacob Josefson – Stephen Gionta
Andy Greene – Damon Severson
Bryce Salvador – Marek Zidlicky
Jon Merrill – Eric Gelinas
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Hockey League or Dallas Stars Hockey Club. Mark Stepneski is an independent writer whose posts on DallasStars.com reflect his own opinions and do not represent official statements from the Dallas Stars. You can follow Mark on Twitter @StarsInsideEdge.