By Scott Cruickshank
CALGARY — When the Calgary Flames’ wingers are producing, Olli Jokinen is the common denominator.
“The thing that jumps out to me — Olli’s got the puck a lot,” says Lee Stempniak, who, Saturday, matched his career-best for points — four, including three goals. “He’s skating with it, he’s carrying it, leading the rush. This year it seems he’s always got the puck. He uses his speed to back defencemen up. He uses his creativity and his shot to set up opportunities.”
Eager to get his own season on track, another winger, Blake Comeau joined Jokinen to start the recent road trip — then erupted for three points in Edmonton.
“He’s really calm and poised with the puck,” Comeau says of Jokinen. “He’s got such great vision that sometimes you feel you don’t even have to call for the puck — he just knows you’re there. I don’t know how he does it. He’s definitely one of the easiest guys to play with.”
Jokinen’s impact, according to Comeau, extends well beyond his 24 shifts per night.
“To me, he’s a really positive guy on the bench,” says the 25-year-old. “Being a younger guy on the team and playing with a guy who’s had the success and the career that he has, it’s obviously calming to have a guy like that on the bench talking to you. There’s times when you try to make plays and they don’t work out, but he’s the first guy to turn to you and say, ‘Good try.’ Just little things like that.”
Twice this season, Jokinen has gone three consecutive nights without a point. That’s it for droughts.
“He’s been good pretty much every game,” says Mikael Backlund, 22. “You can learn from how he works every night. He takes pride in his game and always wants to be a difference-maker. Obviously, he’s been more consistent this year.”
Adds Comeau: “Since I’ve been here, he’s been the prototype of that type of player. That’s what players want to see out of their teammates, what coaches want to see out of their players — what you’re going to get from the guy every night. And you know what you’re going to get with Olli.”
Don’t call it a breakout. The man has a 91-point campaign on his resume.
Don’t call it a comeback. The man is in the midst of his ninth consecutive 50-point season.
But, in many ways, this is a new Jokinen, at 33 years of age.
Coach Brent Sutter traces the resurrection back to November 2010 when he ordered the veteran to be tighter defensively, to be more accountable, to adopt a shutdown mentality, to maintain his production levels.
“He was excited about it,” says Sutter, “because he felt that, ‘OK, this is a role I can take on.’”
Jokinen, to the surprise of many skeptics, continues to embrace that challenge.
“He’s learned how to play the game the right way,” says Sutter. “Credit to Olli. He’s worked at being a more complete player.”
Not everyone has noticed.
Jokinen’s name appeared on Sports Illustrated’s most-overrated poll — as voted on by players.
Jokinen is in the final season of his contract. His agent, Ian Pulver, recently visited general manager Jay Feaster in Calgary, so already there is dialogue between the parties.
And should Pulver ever be unavailable for a sit-down with Flames brass, he could send Stempniak to negotiate in his place.
“A great player, an unbelievable player,” Stempniak says of Jokinen. “There’s guys that maybe see the ice as well or guys that carry the puck as well, but he does it all. Getting points on the power play. Getting points even strength. He’s a big guy, so he matches up well against the other teams’ top players. (Joe) Thornton, (Ryan) Getzlaf, guys like that.
“He does everything well.”