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Photo Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Jussi Jokinen should (and will) play ahead of some of the Oilers’ young forwards

The Edmonton Oilers’ addition of Jussi Jokinen on a bargain bin contract last week was a good one, because the Finnish wing brings an established level of ability to the club, something that the team badly needed at that position.

Despite several summer depth charts projecting him on the fourth line, it’s virtually certain that Jokinen will play ahead of at least one of the three young forwards (Anton Slepyshev, Jesse Puljujarvi and Drake Caggiula) angling for a permanent spot in Edmonton’s top-nine. It’s also virtually certain that this is a good thing.

Some of this relates to experience. Most of it relates to skill.

The problem isn’t so much that Slepyshev, Puljujarvi and Caggiula are young, it’s that there’s no certainty that they’ll be able to produce if placed in a scoring role next season. That’s not a popular thing to say, but it’s true.

Slepyshev is now 23, at the older end of the spectrum for a prospect. The most telling number with him given usage is probably points/hour at 5-on-5: he scored 1.34, which is a solid third-line scoring rate. Of course, that’s over just eight hours of ice-time and he wasn’t a big AHL scorer the year before, so there’s a risk that he isn’t quite that good. He also has a fair bit of ground to make up to be a legitimate second-line player, and given his age that goal may be out of reach.

Caggiula is also 23. It’s easy to think of signed college players as younger than they are because they haven’t been rattling around the team system for years, but the truth is that most of them have a limited window to make an impact because they’re entering pro later in their development. Caggiula’s 1.04 points/hour was the worst number of any Oilers regular, behind Benoit Pouliot, behind Matt Hendricks. Some time with Connor McDavid and regular work on the power play inflated his totals, but the truth is that Caggiula has yet to prove he can generate even third-line offence consistently.

Finally, there’s the 19-year-old Puljujarvi. Puljujarvi actually had the best 5-on-5 scoring clip of this trio, despite going 0-for-35 as a shooter at evens. Still, he did go 0-for-35 over 28 NHL games. His AHL totals were not good, despite the positive buzz – basically, he scored at the same rate as defenceman Jordan Oesterle or AHL journeyman Ryan Hamilton. He followed that up by going pointless in eight games at the World Championships. I like the player a lot, and I think he makes the team and performs well, but again there’s no question that he’s a gamble in a scoring role next season.

Although each of these players might be a reasonable gamble individually, the more of these risks a team takes the greater the likelihood that one or more of them fails. If (to pull numbers from the air) we say there’s an 70 percent likelihood of each of these players succeeding in a top-nine role next season, that results in the following:

  • a 34 percent chance of all three succeeding
  • a 44 percent chance of two of the three succeeding
  • a 19 percent chance of two of the three failing
  • a 3 percent chance of failure across the board

That’s a ludicrously simplified example, of course, but a helpful one for illustrating the situation. A team can make three good individual bets and still expect only two of them to succeed in the aggregate.

In this specific case, the above may understate Edmonton’s challenges. Are any of those three players a better than 50/50 bet as legitimate second line wingers next season? If I’m handicapping the race, I’m setting the over/under at “two third-line (or better) players” out of that trio.

That takes us back to Jokinen, who also carries some risk. He’s coming off a lousy 33-year-old season in Florida, and it’s possible the wheels have come off him as a player.

I think that’s unlikely, for a bunch of reasons: Jokinen’s shot rate held steady at 5-on-5 while his shooting percentage collapsed, his linemates often couldn’t score, his IPP fell well below career norms, and the Panthers had one of the nastiest run of injuries you’ll ever see, a run which was topped off by organizational turmoil.

Basically, there are a lot of reasons to think Jokinen will bounce back, and if he does he’s an impressive guy. Ignoring the lockout-shortened 2012 -13 campaign, he played 70-plus games and scored 40-plus points six times in his previous six tries.

Even including last year, over three years as a Panther Jokinen averaged 1.72 points/hour at 5-on-5. That’s a good second-line scoring rate, pretty comparable to what Jordan Eberle delivered in a down year in 2016-17, and miles beyond what any of Slepyshev, Caggiula or Puljujarvi managed last season. If that’s his level of ability, those three young players are all going to need big years to pass him on merit.

The kids will get their chance, if for no other reason than Jokinen is a stopgap and the kids could be (and in Puljujarvi’s case absolutely should be) long-term pieces. But the presence of Jokinen allows the coach to stick one of them in a fourth-line role, leaving two spots open to be won by the two best performers. It also means that every forward line Edmonton rolls out can run at least two proven players.

Training camp is going to tell us a lot, but based on the roster today, I have some ideas:

  • a third line, likely centered by Ryan Strome, featuring Jokinen and fellow Finn Puljujarvi. This lets the 2016 fourth overall pick learn from someone with the same background, language and who has made the same transition from European to NHL scorer; it also places both Jokinen and Puljujarvi in a favourable matchup position.
  • one of Slepyshev/Caggiula inside the top six. Slepyshev would be my pick today, probably on a big, grinding second line with Milan Lucic, but Caggiula has some things going for him including a successful stint with McDavid. If Caggiula has the better camp, it might be tempting for the coach to run him with McDavid/Patrick Maroon and load up that second line (Lucic/Ryan Nugent-Hopkins/Leon Draisaitl).
  • the other of Slepyshev/Caggiula on the “fourth” line. Mark Letestu and Zack Kassian are probably going to be the duo here, though Kassian has a fairly decent chance of climbing the depth chart himself and shouldn’t be discounted as a top-nine or even top-six option. If Caggiula ends up here, he’ll still be getting time on both special teams and will be spotted up the lineup at points, which is far from the worst possible outcome.

I know I say this every year, but training camp really is shaping up as an exciting time because so many players have the potential to move up or down the depth chart based on their performance. When all is said and done, though, I’d be very surprised if Jokinen isn’t playing a top-nine role. He’s too good a player, and the competition too unproven, to expect him to slide lower than that.

  • JimmyV1965

    Training camp will be exciting for sure. So many prime scoring roles up for grabs. I like the approach the Oil are taking as well. Stockpile a bunch of players who are reasonable bets and see who rises to the top. I’m putting my money on the Drake. I thought he looked better as the season wore on and he has all the tools. Not sure what will happen with Pool Party. I don’t get this narrative about his performance at the Worlds. He was put in a position to fail because he played so sparingly. But when he was on the ice, the puck was moving south. I never so him get dominated. And I thought he played decently, in a non-scoring role. And from what I understand, he still hasn’t turned 19.

  • camdog

    The beauty of Caggiula and Slepyshev is they can both rotate throughout the line up rather easily. Puljujarvi on the other hand is a little different, he doesn’t really fit on the fourth line and we don’t know if he’s ready for the first or second line. Right now Puljujarvi either a third liner or destined for some more AHL time.

  • Connor'sGotHart,Ross,Lindsay!

    I think all three of these guy will turn into good NHL players . I am looking forward to Slepychev and Cagguila having very good seasons.Both seem poised to take the next step. Overall Puljujarvi will have the biggest impact.

  • madjam

    Here is my estimate on starting lineup with explanation :
    Maroon , McDavid , Draisaitl – 2 centers
    Lucic, Hopkins , Strome – 2 centers
    Jokinen/Cagguila, Rotational – Letestu , Puljujarvi – 1 and 1/2 center if use of Jokinen is such .
    Slepychev/Khaira , Rotational- Letestu , Kassian .
    Here is how it comes together : Top two lines are solid and using Letestu for 3rd or 4th line center allows Connor , Draisaitl , Hopkins or Strome additional time to soak up time on bottom two lines or just one bottom line so as not to overtax any of them . Lots of flexibility having 5 decent centers on team that could work well employing them this way – semi rotational . Should also help team chemistry with all teammates and help escalate scoring on bottom two lines as well .

  • Oil9744

    If JP makes the team and I think he will this training camp, he will be on a line with Jokinen on the 3rd line I’m guessing, Oilers are gonna have a stacked line up this season by the looks of it already.
    Maroon McDavid Strome
    Lucic Draisaital Slepy
    Jokinen Nuge JP
    Kahira Letestu Kassian

      • I think the above is the starting lineup (Cags in for Khaira) to get Strome excited and some momentum going. Then Nuge and Strome will switch to get Nuge going. Absolutely agree that Jokinen and Puljujarvi need to be on a line together.

      • Oil9744

        I gotta admit the idea of Nuge playing with Mcdavid sounds really good, but It kind of seems to big of a leap at the same time, Nuge has always played centre except on the power play and he’s a lefty who would be on the RW of Connor that causes concern I think, plus Nuge isn’t really to much of a shooter, Strome is a Righty and would fit in better on the RW, he has quite a bit of experience playing the wing already, and apparently has a pretty decent shot but who knows, I’m sure training camp will answer some questions and see who slots where, I hope JP has a break out season more then anyone and they slot him with Connor again to be honest

  • themightypeace

    The other consideration in all of this is depth – many Canadian teams want to have their best roster rolling out the first day of the season … and then when the first injury rolls along they have no one to call up. For this reason alone, even if he is the best option, Puljujarvi should stay down on the farm until someone gets hurt … which WILL happen and it probably will happen within the first two weeks of the season. The nice thing about the Oilers is they have a lot of depth at center so no matter who gets hurt they could juggle the lines around so that Puljujarvi gets to play at his natural RW position (EG Letestu gets hurt – Jussi slides over to centre and Pullijujarvi goes to RW). We have seen a lot of debate about starting kids on the first day of the season over the last few years – for example Nurse when he was on the verge of being an NHL regular … the smart move is to maximize depth into the AHL roster cause someone WILL get hurt. Heck, I would sign ANOTHER 1 year guy like Jussi just to further add depth to the team … even then Pullijujarvi would probably still get called up in the first month. Depth is where it is at, not playing your best lines on day one.

    • McRaj

      I agree that depth is very important but to not play your best players just due to having a reason for an injury call-up is foolish. If you are saying that by having Puju in the lineup, we would have to call up a nobody incase of an injury, that is essentially saying that if Puju was not in the lineup, that nobody would be on the opening day roster.

      • Tombstone

        McRaj do you feed that thing uppercuts?
        ” but to not play your best players just due to having a reason for an injury call-up is foolish”
        You sure have a tenuous understanding of the English language. 😂😂😂😂😂

      • themightypeace

        Puljujarvi is the only forward on the 23 man roster who could be sent down.

        Oilers could have him start in the AHL and sign Hudler, Jagr, or Iginla to a one year contract to play on the third or fourth line, filling in the scoring lines when necessary, and call up Puljujarvi when there is an injury … doesnt that sound waaaay better than having Puljujarvi start with the team and then calling up Ty Rattie or Mitch Callahan when there is an injury?

  • Woogie

    Our right wing depth chart is scary bad. I know either Draisaitil, Nuge or Strome might be playing some right wing but if one of these guys gets injured we are in serious trouble. This is why I was a little surprise of the Eberle trade solely based on right wing lack of depth.

  • McJeetz

    Can’t completely agree with you here. Numbers aren’t everything. Sometimes its more ‘Saw him good’ and projecting growth

    Slepyshev showed real chemistry with Draisaitl and Lucic in the playoffs. I think its a safe bet those three will get a long look early this year. That line was a load to handle for the other team, and it was there that Slepyshev started to show his power forward potential, although it was a small sample size.

    As far a Puljujarvi goes, he was one of the, if not the youngest player in the NHL last year. I’m betting he gets every chance to get traction on the 3rd line this year against soft opposition. Sounds like the Oiler brass wants to give him a push this year.

    Caggiula is the hard one to pin down because Strome, RNH and Draisaitl are probably ahead of him in the pecking order to play with McDavid. Jokinen probably will start on the 3rd line to get into the top 9. Caggiula may have to start on the 4th line, but that might not be a bad thing because him, Kassian and Letestu all have some skill so they may find some offensive chemistry.

    If I had to put down a $10 bet on a starting lineup, I would go with:

    Maroon McD RNH
    Lucic Draisaitl Slepyshev
    Jokinen Strome Puljujarvi
    Caggiula Letestu Kassian
    Khaira

    • themightypeace

      The nice thing about keeping RNH and Strome together is one is left handed and the other is right handed… on the same line you could play match ups on face offs

    • 1983 and This Year

      If you would have told me 3 years ago this would be our lineup I’d have laughed. No Hall, Ebs, Yak and you’ve got Nuge playing wing? And Kassian, who just broke Gag’s jaw? Pfffft, yeah right.

      And I love this line up.

      • “Lmao buddy did you just forget Perron existed?”
        “Maroon? Can someone tell me why we have a Ducks 4th liner as our #1 LW?”
        “Landing that 15 year old McDavid? Keep dreaming lmao. You actually think we’ll still be picking first?
        “Draisaitl? Wasting a top pick on another forward? It’s Haydyn Fleury or we’re trading the pick for Yandle”
        “Lucic? This isn’t NHL14, no way in hell Boston is trading him”
        “It’s spelt Paajarvi not Puljujarvi and we just traded him for Perron”
        “What in the world is a
        Caggiula?”
        It’s funny because if you poated this lineup back then you’d get enough thumbs down to crash the site

  • freelancer

    [i]The problem isn’t so much that Slepyshev, Puljujarvi and Caggiula are young, it’s that there’s no certainty that they’ll be able to produce if placed in a scoring role next season. That’s not a popular thing to say, but it’s true.[/i]

    This is what I’ve been shouting (family gatherings have gotten awkward) all summer. Jump back 4 years ago when we were hoping that Paajarvi was going to be a top 6 guy or that Omark was the next Martin St Louis. It’s great to have young players with potential but immediately slotting unproven guys into key spots is not the way to win Cups.

  • oilerjed

    I still feel that Slepyshev will be the first to break through. He has a great shot and is strong as hell. Nothing that he did last year made me worry about him when he was on the ice. Put him with a skilled center like Draisaitl and I think he good have a really good year.

    It would be great if Strome could work out on McDavid’s right side This would free up Leon and move RNH down to 3C.

    That would give us:
    Marroon-Mcdavid-Strome
    Lucic-Draisaitl-Slepyshev
    Caggiulla-RNH-Jokinen
    Khaira/Pakarinen-Letestu-Kassian

    That’s a pretty good line up with enough versatility to switch it up when injuries hit.

    • Connor'sGotHart,Ross,Lindsay!

      Slepyshev is one guy that I’m looking forward to seeing. Down the stretch and in the playoffs he showed glimpses that he will be a valuable big body and I think he becomes a 20 goal scorer. 20 doesn’t seem like much but that’s the ” new 30″ in today’s game.

  • Oil9744

    This is kind of off topic, but how about Edmonton still goes after a legit top 6 winger this summer? Draisaital is obviously priority number one right now and it should be but after he is signed I think Edmonton will still have a fair amount of cap room, Connors contract doesn’t kick in till after next season so they should have room to sign a good player on the wing, I do like the Jokinen signing but I don’t think Vegas is keeping a 30 year old James Neal since they obviously want draft picks, young players, and prospects, Plus Neal with Connor or Leon could do some real damage I think and his cap hit isn’t to crazy, I hope Edmonton can make something like that work, would you do it??

      • Oil9744

        It’s hard to say what it would cost to get Neal but the way McPhee has been dissing our players for picks has been crazy, He let Methot go for a couple picks and he was playing top line defence last season! I can’t see the asking price for Neal being to crazy at all

        • Oil9744

          Hopefully it wouldn’t cost a first round but Edmontons first pick next season is gonna be in the mid 20’s range I’m guessing, so it’s not a critical first rounder they would be trading anyways so I would be ok with it, but I’m thinking a 2nd and a conditional 3rd rounder that could turn in to a 2nd, maybe a prospect in there should get it done

  • toprightcorner

    I{ would like to know which blogger are forecasting Jokinen to play on the 4th line, as I definitely don’t want to read blogs who seem to be clueless about hockey and building a team.

  • toprightcorner

    I know Jokinen played mostly RW in PIT, some with Malkin. I think he did the same for periods of time in FLA 2 years ago before Marchassault played RW last year.

    JJ will never play lower than 3rd line. He will likely play on the same like as JP if he is playing in the NHL. I could also see him at 2RW for chunks of the season.

    I really hope that the play Draisaitl mostly at 2C for 2 reasons. First, I want the other team forced to choose to put their best defenders against either Cnnor or Leon, not just against a stacked 1st line. Second, the Oilers need to see how the top 6 looks without RNH, who, due to cap hit, is likely to get traded next year, and Chairelli can have a better idea at the pieces they need.

    This either has Jokinen on a line with Nuge and Puljujarvi, which could be a solid line, or he can bump up to 2RW behind Strome if Sleppy struggles.

    I predict Jokinen will score 16-18 goals and over 40 pts.