Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

New Jet Jokinen brings a little bit of Finland and a lot of skill and leadership

Finnish line

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Olli Jokinen just might be the next best Finn.

Winnipeg Jets fans already have soft spots for Finnish products Teemu Selanne and Teppo Numminen and they are never to be replaced or forgotten. There can only ever be one Teemu or Teppo.

But listening to Jokinen talk about our city, his place with the Jets and where he wants to take his game leaves one impressed and wondering if GM Kevin Cheveldayoff didn't pull off the sleeper free agent signing of last summer.

The mammoth contracts handed out to the likes of Ryan Suter, Zach Parise and Shea Weber drew much more attention but flying under the radar, Cheveldayoff nicely filled his own needs while staying within his budget.

Key among Cheveldayoff's needs was the presence of a big centre with a respected pedigree. The Jets have lots of skill but Jokinen represents a blend of skill and polished professionalism. He's a true pro and he'll be able to provide coach Claude Noel with invaluable leadership to a group that is lacking in that area.

"The best way to lead is by example. Sometimes you have to dump the puck in or block the shot. It's not all about scoring goals. You have to look after the little details but if that doesn't work I'm not afraid to speak up," Jokinen said.

You have to be honest with yourself and sometimes honest with your teammates," he said. "You don't have to be a jerk about it but a team doesn't have to be about 20 of the nicest guys either. Sometimes the truth hurts."

Having been through two lockouts, Jokinen will provide a voice of experience in the dressing room and be able to lead many of his younger teammates through a new set of circumstances.

Jokinen says focusing on the games and putting everything else aside will be key if the Jets are to be a playoff team.

"The mindset, after a short training camp, you have to be able to play 60 minutes," said Jokinen. "You have to play 60 minutes and stick with the system, whatever the system is going to be. You have to have everyone on the same page be ready to play good defence because the goals against has to be low. That's going to be the toughest part. Players skated in the lockout but there will be some bad habits and you can't have those habits once you start playing for points. You have to be mentally ready and you can't take days off."

Just because Jokinen, who will earn a pro-rated portion of $4.5 million this season after signing a two-year, $9-million contract this summer, isn't among the league's highest-paid players doesn't mean he won't be the source of huge improvement in the Jets lineup.

Winnipeg now has a front-line centre with size, speed, skill and experience. Jokinen will be Winnipeg's best forward and not just because he can put the puck in the net but due to his will to keep it out of his own.

The 34-year-old native of Kuopio, Finland is an established pro with 292 goals and 683 points over 1,042 NHL games. Jokinen has always been able to score but he might be arriving in Winnipeg having found the secret to a two-way game putting him at the apex of his career.

"The book on me early in my career, when I was in Florida, was that I could score but I didn't play in my own end," said Jokinen, to a group of reporters at the MTS Iceplex on Monday breaking a self-imposed silence now that the lockout has ended. "It was accurate. But when I got to Calgary, Brent (former Flames coach Brent Sutter) said there was no reason I couldn't score and play good defence. He stressed that the best way to prevent goals against was to spend as little time in our zone as possible. I think I really improved that part of my game and I think I'm playing the best hockey of my career."

Jokinen had a number of offers to consider last summer but his wife Katrina did a little homework of her own.

"She talked to Teemu's wife who said Winnipeg was the best place they ever lived," said Jokinen.

The scouting report to this point has been dead on.

"I love it here," he said. "I actually asked my wife about a month ago if the season gets cancelled, if they want to go back to Florida and we'll put the kids in school there.

"Everybody said no, we want to stay here.

"It's been tough that we had a lockout but at the same time you have to look at the positives out of it and we've made a lot of friends outside of hockey and people have been really nice. People are very friendly over here. It's a great city.

"I didn't have any expectations coming in. I didn't want to listen to every second person who was saying, 'You're out of your mind signing in Winnipeg; it's cold, it's a bad city.' You hear a lot of negative stuff about the city if you don't live here. But once you live here, you've got everything you need. People love hockey, there are unbelievable schools, people are friendly. What else can you ask?"

gary.lawless@freepress.mb.ca Twitter: @garylawless

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 8, 2013 C1

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About Gary Lawless

Gary Lawless is the Free Press sports columnist and co-host of the Hustler and Lawless show on TSN 1290 Winnipeg and www.winnipegfreepress.com
Lawless began covering sports as a rookie reporter at The Chronicle-Journal in Thunder Bay after graduating from journalism school at Durham College in Ontario.
After a Grey Cup winning stint with the Toronto Argonauts in the communications department, Lawless returned to Thunder Bay as sports editor.
In 1999 he joined the Free Press and after working on the night sports desk moved back into the field where he covered pro hockey, baseball and football beats prior to being named columnist.

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