The year was 1997 and a promising player at the time from his native Finland was drafted third overall by the Los Angeles Kings. The Kings for their part did not have Olli Jokinen in their long term plans. Having made his debut for the team that season, he was promptly traded to the New York Islanders at the end of the season.
He was touted as a long term gain for the Islanders and a centerpiece of their plans from the trade with LA. After a quiet season by any standards on the island, Jokinen would register 21 points in a full season.
Modest but productive enough so that in the 2000 draft he was packaged with goaltender Roberto Luongo and traded to the Florida Panthers.
The Panthers would be where Jokinen would find his best years. Growing into the role of Captain for 5 years from 2003 – 2008 he would be a powerful force on and off the ice. Life however wasn’t always easy for the if Finn in the NHL, suffering poor seasons initially in Florida. In his first two years he totaled a meager 45 points combined. Chronically low by his or really anyone’s standards. Berated by the press and pundits alike for poor play Jokinen strongly considered a permanent return to his native Finland.
The arrival of coach Mike Keenan would change all that. Reiterated several times by team senior management Jokinen would skate every shift like it was his last. It showed and the gains came, the confidence and the goals were not far behind. An alternate captain that year 2002-2003, he was elevated to captain the following season and never looked back. When eventually in 2008 being traded from the Panthers to the Phoenix Coyotes, Jokinen would leave the team as their highest goal scorer with a tally of 188.
He would play only 57 games with Coyotes and leave for Canada in a trade with the Calgary Flames. The deal helped the Flames almost instantly with Jokinen’s offensive numbers helping them qualify for the post season. After 799 regular season games Jokinen had finally achieved the next step, a chance to play for Lord Stanley’s Cup.
It was a tumultuous relationship between the player and the Flames with the team trading him briefly to the New York Rangers in the 09-10 season. Largely the divide was blamed on his dismissing production with Captain Jarome Iginla.
The 2012-2013 season brought a fresh beginning for Olli Jokinen with a new team, the Winnipeg Jets. Although fitting well with the team and producing over 2 seasons he was passed on the Jets depth chart at his position of center and was allowed by the team to look at free agency.
Changing home arenas twice in a calendar year Jokinen would sign with Nashville only to be traded to the Maple Leafs 48 games into the season as a package with prospect Brendan Leipsig to the Leafs for Cody Franson and Mike Santorelli. It was the beginning of the end for the journeyman Finn. Playing only 6 games for the Leafs he was traded to the St Louis Blues where a mere 8 games later he would suffer a season and ultimately career ending injury against his former team, the Maple Leafs.
In a career that would span 20 years Olli Jokinen put together one hell of a resume. His career totals for goals and points respectively are 321 and 429.
March 7th,2017 in a show of class, the Panthers signed Jokinen for a day. The move allowed him the honor of retiring a Panther.
In a career that was both a credit to his country and the teams he played for, Olli Jokinen can only look back in pride.
Image Credit : nhlpa.com