It was at the point that the Stars called up Carl Sneep to Dallas that I started thinking about how long it will take before the Stars get defensive reinforcements from the juniors and Europe. Its been my opinion for a while that it won't be long until we see Finnish defenseman Jyrki Jokipakka playing in North America within the Stars organisation.
Jyrki Jokipakka was drafted in the seventh round, 195th Overall, in 2011, a year after he was first eligible to be drafted. Since then has become a solid prospect with some reasonable upside for the Dallas Stars. This has been helped in the most part because of the role he has played with Ilves of the SM-Liiga.
Ilves has had a dismal last couple of seasons, something which must be frustrating for one of the older and more decorated Finnish teams, they finished bottom of the league last season and avoided relegation from the SM-Liiga. Again this season they look set to finish bottom of the SM-Liiga, through 54 games their record is 10-10-34. Just looking at those numbers its reasonably clear that something is going wrong and they are clinging on by their fingertips.
Why is this good for Jokipakka? He has had to step up to become the top defenseman for Ilves, and while it might be on a terrible team, it will help his development to be put into that position and play those big minutes against some very good teams. The SM-Liiga is arguable the third or fourth toughest league in the world and playing those minutes will help him take strides not just on the ice but off the ice. He leads Ilves with an average of 24minutes on the ice per game.
Though he is expected to become a defensive defensemen when he makes the move to North America he has shown that he is willing to throw pucks at the net and to make offensive plays. He is joint third on the team in point production, not a completely impressive feat considering the top player has 27 points. Jyrki Jokipakka has 17 points through 54 games (5 goals, 12 assists) and has had 153 shots on goal in 54 games. This willingness to put the puck on net is a good tendency and if he can refine his shot he could become a force from the point in North America.
Jyrki Jokipakka is a reasonable big defenseman at 6"3 198lbs. One of the most obvious and notable skill Jokipakka has is his skating style. He moves very well for a man of his size and has a very smooth skating style. He doesn't rely much upon bone crushing hits instead his focus is on position and stick checking. This isn't hugely unsurprising considering the fact that European defensemen on bigger ice tend to be, though not always, less physical than their North American counterparts.
It was generally considered a relief for Ilves fans that Jokipakka wasn't assigned to the Texas Stars for this season after signing an Entry Level Contract during the summer of 2012. It was assumed that he would do but instead he spent another year playing in the SM-Liiga getting top minutes against some tough opponents. It was probably better that this happened because of how crowded the Texas Stars were during the lockout. Jokipakka would have likely fallen down the lineup and wouldn't have got the time he could get in Finland.
So why should we be thinking about Jyrki Jokipakka? The fact of the matter is that with callups and the trading of Mark Fistric before the season began its become painfully obvious that the Stars professional defensive depth is pretty thin. The most likely defenseman to join the pros in North America first is Jyrki Jokipakka. The question that arises is when will this happen?
For those of you who are unaware the SM-Liiga regular season ends on the 12th March. Ilves will be fighting for a spot in the SM-Liiga and to avoid relegation in a second straight season they will play a relegation best of seven with the top team of the Mestis (Finnish Second Division). If this goes to its full seven games this will mean that Jokipakka's season will end on the 6th April at the latest.
The Texas Stars regular season ends on the 20th April and with them likely to make the playoffs they will have extra games beyond this. With this in mind would the Dallas Stars think it would be useful, both to Jokipakka and the Texas Stars, to have Jokipakka play in the AHL after finishing his season in the SM-Liiga? If they decide against this he will almost certainly join the Texas Stars for the beginning of the 2013-2014 season. If they do decide he will join the Texas Stars at the end of this season he will be able to sign an Amateur Try Out and therefore not use up a year on his ELC.
What ever happens it is very likely that Stars Fans, whether Texas Stars or Dallas Stars, will see Jyrki Jokipakka in Texas very soon.