Jyrki Jokipakka was a seventh round pick, 195th overall, in 2011. He was drafted a year after he was eligible and has quickly become one of my favorite prospects in the system.
Jokipakka spent the past two seasons as the number one defenseman on SM-Liiga side Ilves. They had a poor, to put it mildly, last two seasons, but he was given plenty of minutes to play and did well.
He came to North America this season and has been playing with the Texas Stars in the AHL. It was his first time playing abroad and living in a completely different country. He seems to have fit well with the Texas Stars having registered six points so far this season.
In order to find out how well he has adapted to North America and his performance in generalI sent a few questions to Stephen Meserve from Hundred Degree Hockey, a website that anyone interested in the Texas Stars should bookmark and read regularly, to see how Jokipakka has been doing.
Huw: What do you think of Jokipakka's play so far? Has he adjusted to the North American game well?
Stephen: I have been pleasantly surprised by Jokipakka this season. He has been consistently in the lineup and paired with Cameron Gaunce in a third pairing. Gaunce plays the more defensive role on the pair and Jokipakka the offensive. He also get a fair bit of time on the power play. That has trickled off with the assignment of Connauton, who now slides in on the PP units. The one word I would use is solid. He collects assists with decent regularity and has shown some good vision with a lot of his passing.
One thing you are usually 'supposed' to worry about with European skaters is their physicality. I would say Jokipakka has had no problem in this area. He both delivers and takes hits with facility. He doesn't shy away from physical play at all, and it doesn't put him off his game either. That's very good to see.
Huw: He strikes me as similar to Patrik Nemeth is that an accurate description? If not what kind of player is he like?
Stephen: I think he's like Patrik Nemeth in terms of solidity. Of course, that's last season's Nemeth. This season, Nemeth hasn't turned it on quite yet in his full form like last year, which was very impressive indeed just before going down with injury. Jokipakka strikes me as having more offensive upside than Nemeth and maybe not as physical (but still not intimidated by it).
Huw: Is he getting a chance to play a lot despite being on the third pairing of quite a deep defensive unit?
Stephen: The power play time is boosting his ice time. In some recent games where he was still being used on the PP (before Connauton arrived), he had 18-20 minutes with anywhere between 1:30 and 3:00 of that on the PP.
It sounds as if Jokipakka has adjusted to the North American game pretty well and is playing, despite the deep defensive unit, a good amount of ice time. One of the aspects that I've wondered about his game has been his ability to produce offensively.
He had 17 points in 53 games last season in the SM-Liiga. That was with a significant amount of PP time and averaging about 24 minutes per game. He also was in the top 20 in the league in shots on goals. Would that translate to North America?
So far there aren't any goals for Jokipakka but he has got six assists so far. I find it very positive that Stephen thinks that that Jokipakka does have more offensive upside compared to a similar type of player in Patrik Nemeth.
While I don't expect to see Jokipakka play in Dallas next season I have a feeling that there is a future for him in the NHL.