It was noted by a player in the Los Angeles Kings’ practice facility earlier today that there isn’t only a “Juice,” there’s also a Jussi.
Separated geographically by an international border, a pair of versatile forwards – Sweden’s Adrian Kempe and Finland’s Jussi Jokinen – have adjacent stalls separated by mere inches.
When he gets into a game – and there’s a good chance that’ll be tonight – Jokinen will become the first Finnish player to play a regular season game for Los Angeles since Lauri Tukonen’s five games from 2006-08.“My first time ever – no other Finns than me. It’ll be different. A few Swedes,” Jokinen said. “I played with Kopi during the  Youngstars Game, so we got to know each other there well, and obviously after that, whenever we bump each other, we kind of say a few things and stuff like that, so he’s probably the guy I know the most.”
But beyond Kopitar, there aren’t any broad ties that link him to former teammates or close friends on the Kings’ roster. There’s Jeff Zatkoff, with whom he played in Pittsburgh, but Zatkoff is currently with the Ontario Reign. Some handshakes and introductions are due.
“He’s a veteran guy that plays all three forward positions and played in all situations in his career,” John Stevens said. “I think it’s important just to get him here for him to get a feel for us, us to get a feel for him, and then we’ll decide where he’s best used as we move forward.”
He’ll hit the ground running tonight, when he’s expected to skate to the left of Andrew Crescenzi and Jonny Brodzinski. There’s no real script beyond that. After arriving last night, he took part in today’s morning skate as well as the pre-scout and review meetings to prepare him for the types of expectations in all three zones.
“It’ll be a process that takes time, but it got started,” Stevens said.
Tuesday’s trade with Edmonton, in which Jokinen was exchanged for Michael Cammalleri, was the fourth trade of Jokinen’s 905-game career. He was traded along with Jeff Halpern, Mike Smith and a fourth round draft pick from Dallas to Tampa Bay in exchange for Brad Richards and Johan Holmqvist in February, 2008, and was subsequently sent to Carolina in February, 2009, and Pittsburgh in April, 2013.
He had several productive seasons in Florida since then, totaling 18 goals and 60 points in 2015-16, but was slowed by a knee injury that limited him to 69 games and 28 points a season ago.
“I remember the first time [I was traded] it was a big shock,” he said. “I think the last three times, I kind of knew something was coming. Obviously, it’s never easy. You just get yourself acclimated three months ago to Edmonton, and now do it again, so that’s the toughest part. But I’m pretty excited to join the Kings. Obviously this team has won before and still has the core that has won before. That’s my only goal at this time in my career: to win the Stanley Cup, and I’ll try to do anything I can to help this team win.”
After signing a one-year, $1-million contract with Edmonton over the off-season, he totaled one assist in his first 14 games. There will be slightly different expectations with Los Angeles, with whom he’ll more solidly align as a bottom-six forward and in more of a checking-type role.“I’ve been playing pretty much from first line winger to fourth line center, and PP, PK, everything,” Jokinen said. “Obviously I think any player wants to play 20 minutes, first line, first PP, first PK, but there’s only so much ice time. It’s just trying to fit in wherever the coaches think I can help the team best, so I’m going to do everything I can to help the team win, so it’ll be up to the coaching staff, how they feel and what they think, and I can do the best to help the team.”
He wasn’t really trending towards Todd McLellan’s good graces in Edmonton, where he began the year as a third line left wing. He still has the same compete and drive, based on observations north of the border, but may be slowed by footspeed that hasn’t kept up with the NHL’s breakneck pace.
“I never was able to gain the coach’s trust, and as a player you can just feel it when the coach doesn’t have any confidence with you,” he said. “I’ve been in the league long enough. Last week or so, I felt like it’s not going anywhere in Edmonton, so I kind of knew something was coming. So I’m really excited for the first start, and I’m ready to play.”
But he’s healthy, his body feels fine, and in a different set of circumstances, where he’ll be counted on in compete and checking responsibilities more than in a thrust to concertedly serve as an offensive option, the team hopes there could be a better fit with the Kings than the Oilers.
“Physically, I feel great. Like, I’m not 40. I’m 34. I still feel like I have lots of life,” he said. “I think last year I had a knee injury that kind of slowed me down, but I had great summer training. Six months, and now obviously I had a disappointing stint in Edmonton, but physically I feel great and mentally I feel great. I still love the game, love working hard and love coming to the rink every day, so I hope I have whatever few years left in my time. Obviously I need to get something going here and find a role on the team that can help the team to win.”
On what he reinforces in his first game with a new team:
I think you can do a first impression only one time, so obviously you want to try to play as skilled of a game as you can, and like you said, it has to be some adrenaline going in my blood, and be ready to go. I’m just excited to get on the ice and play for the Kings.
On any surprise things hadn’t greatly progressed personally and team-wide in Edmonton:
I think so. Obviously there were high expectations for them. A pretty young team there. It was a great group of guys, and I think they’ll be fine. They’ll be a really good team a long time, but I think as a young team, when you’ve had success before, like the season before, and now it’s a new season, so expectations are so high. That can be hard.
On where he prefers to play:
I think I prefer left wing, but let’s say I’ve played in the NHL 13 years – probably six years left, three years center, three years right. Pretty much everywhere around the lineup, so wherever they think is the best.
-Lead photo via Andy Devlin/NHLI