Jyrki Jokipakka was drafted in 2011 in the seventh round. He was an overage prospect, passed over in his first draft year and on draft day an afterthought for many Stars fans. He was just one of six prospects that the Stars selected that year, highlighted and dominated by high ranking prospects such as Jamie Oleksiak and Brett Ritchie.
So who is Jokipakka? He was drafted from Ilves of the SM-Liiga and after he was drafted became one of their key players. He is a more defensively minded defenseman who is now 6"3 and 205lbs but when drafted he was 6"3 191lbs. Not only does he have the gift of this natural size he is also a pretty good skater to go along with a big frame.
Ilves' glory days are behind it, it finished bottom of the SM-Liiga in the past two years, but this only gave Jokipakka more opportunities. He became their go to guy on the blueline. He led their defensive corps in time on the ice but also in shots on goal. Don't take that as a sign that he will put up a lot of points in Austin this season because it is almost certain that he will be a defensive minded defender. His development curve so far has been very impressive.
He joined the Texas Stars at the end of the SM-Liiga season, though he didn't play for any games for the Texas Stars. Instead he got used to the organisation down in Cedar Park and saw how it operated. This experience of seeing how things are done in the AHL is important for any player coming over from Europe. The two types of games are different and the adjustment needs to be as smooth as possible for a european player's development.
Its not just on the ice that he needs to adjust. He needs to feel at home in a foreign country and feel comfortable with the language, culture and team. If he feels comfortable then his transition on the ice will be better. The more comfortable he is the better his development will progress.
Jokipakka impressed at Traverse City when playing for the Stars. Les Jackson commented to Mark Stepneski at Stars Inside Edge during the Traverse City Tournament that:
"He's really advanced since we drafted him, he's a smart player, good positionally. He understands the game, he keeps it simple and does a lot of good things. He was very impressive last night."
Jokipakka, as a mostly unknown quantity for many Stars fans, will have the chance to showcase his skills with the Texas Stars this season. Like Patrik Nemeth the year before his adjustment to North America will be key in his advancement to the NHL. Will he dominant and become the Finnish shutdown machine or will he struggle? Patrik Nemeth had very little trouble adjusting to North America and the consensus is that he is not far from being able to play a role in Dallas.
So what should Stars fans expect from Jokipakka? I think he has the ability to munch those minutes and be the kind of defenseman that a coach puts on the ice to defend a lead. He won't lead the AHL in scoring or points by any means but will do the things that don't often appear on the postgame stats. If he gets even 10 points I'd be pretty impressed, though that might depend on his defensive partner.
Every team needs those defensive defensemen who can eat up those minutes and protect the lead. Through the two preseason games that he played he had a single assist. Yesterday's game against Colorado saw him paired up with Alex Goligoski. In fact he played the third most minutes of any defenceman yesterday and saw time on the powerplay. Though this is the preseason, and they are experimenting and testing various players abilities, it appears that Jokipakka performed solidly.
This coming year is very important if Jokipakka wants to make it to the NHL. He won't ever blow away the opponents with his offensive talents but he could develop into a minute munching defenseman that every team needs. In Austin he will likely be further down a crowded and talented defensive corps but this might be good for to begin with. Let him adjust to the ice size and the speed of the game and see if he pushes his way up the lineup like Patrik Nemeth did last season. Not only does he need to adjust on the ice but he needs to adjust with the culture and way of life that exists in North America.
If everything goes to plan, with limited hiccups, then you could see the name Jokipakka on the back of an NHL jersey within the next few years.