LOS ANGELES---Olli Jokinen is a pretty fair hockey player. At 6-foot-3, with a shaved head and sporting an unusual moustache, the newest Rangers center also is an imposing, disarming and outspoken figure.
In his first brief presser tonight before facing the Kings, the veteran Finn who had scored 34 or more goals in three of the last four seasons prior to this one, discussed a self-imposed urgency to adjust to his new club, declared that he was a better player than in his most productive years in Florida because he learned to play defense, and blamed media reports of the impending trade as a “distraction” that caused Calgary’s loss to the Flyers on Monday.
Jokinen, 31, acquired with left wing Brandon Prust for Chris Higgins and Ales Kotalik, insisted that he needed to adjust quickly to linemates Marian Gaborik and Vinny Prospal because time was running out in the playoff chase.
“It can’t be long, with six games before the Olympic break. We don’t have 20 games. We have to start getting used to each other tonight,” said Jokinen, who will be an unrestricted free agent this summer. “Everybody says ‘It’s gonna take time, it’s gonna take time.’ They gave me 75 games in Calgary so…if that’s a lot, I don’t know. I have to play my best starting with the first shift and show my teammates and show management here in New York that it was a good move by them. I’ve got to do my job so I can stay.”
Rangers general manager Glen Sather, who engineered the four-player swap, hoped the pairing with Gaborik, who has 33 goals, would click as well. “He’s been a proven goal scorer. In Calgary, (11 goals in 55 games) he wasn’t,” said Sather. “I’m sure he was trying to feed (Jarome) Iginla all the time and the chemistry wasn’t always there…He’s big, he can skate, he can shoot, he’s competitive. If they can develop some type of chemistry, it’ll be fine.”
After his third trade since June, 2008, when he was sent to Phoenix by the Panthers, Jokinen described his role as helping this team “not just to get into the playoffs, but to go far in the playoffs. I’m excited to be back in the Eastern Conference, that’s where I’d been playing my best hockey. I feel I’m a better player now than I was in Florida when I was racking up a lot of points. This year I learned a lot: how to play defense and how to play both ends of the ice. But every player on every team works pretty hard, so you need some skill too. You can’t be afraid to make plays in the offensive zone. That’s usually the difference.”
Those last words must be music to the ears of coach John Tortorella, who is desperate to cure the ailing offense and power play. "We’re hoping he adds some goal scoring,” said Tortorella, who saw Jokinen’s talent upclose while behind the bench in Tampa. “He scored a lot of goals against us… I think he brings a little bit of jam to his game also.” Prospal, who played against him in Tampa, agreed that Jokinen “was hot against us; hopefully he can regain his scoring touch here. He had some trouble scoring this year, but he can fly with the puck. (The grit) is something we need from everyone. It helps, especially on our line.”