The Jets landed their biggest fish to date on the second day of NHL free agency.
Centre Olli Jokinen, who spent the last two seasons with the Calgary Flames, on July 2 agreed to a two-year deal with Winnipeg that will pay him $9 million. He gives the Jets more offensive punch and some size down the middle, which is what the team desperately needed.
Considering they snagged left wing Alexei Ponikarovsky the day before, the Jets improved their top-six forward depth substantially, even though Jokinen comes with a warning label.
The big Finland native carries a reputation as a bad influence in the locker room, although all signs point to him putting that behaviour in the past. He apparently grew up with the Flames and is ready to be a positive influence on the young Jets team.
Jokinen should also be able to put the puck in the net. He scored 23 goals last season and added 38 assists. He topped out at 91 points with the Florida Panthers during the 2006-07 season and hasn’t had fewer than 50 points since 2002.
“When you do have the ability to upgrade in any facet of the centre position, you have to take a good, long look at it,” Jets general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff said. “We believe strength down the middle will give you a lot of success in the long run.”
Jokinen, 33, will be a bridge, of sorts, while the Jets wait for the likes of 2011 first-round draft pick Mark Scheifele and others to develop into NHL players.
“A lot of people wrote me off a couple years ago when I went back to Calgary, and those guys believed in me that I could still play in the league and could still be an impact player,” Jokinen said. “The last year and a half, I changed my game to be a better overall player.
“(Brent Sutter) taught me how to play good in both ends and how to play against other teams’ top lines and how to be more helpful to the team, not just score goals and get points.“
The Jokinen signing gives the Jets some hope of improving this season — if there is a season. He’s not afraid to shoot the puck, so he should boost the team’s offense.