Jyrki Jokipakka played in 51 games with the Dallas Stars last season scoring 10 points (0G 10A) and averaging 16:31 TOI per game. Approximately 100 years ago, Derek wrote a stunning review of Jokipakka's season in Victory Green that can be found here. I will hit the highlights: Jokipakka played a lot with Trevor Daley, was sheltered to the tune of almost 57% offensive zone starts, and was a positive possession player by 2 shots (782 shots for, 780 shots against).
There is a lot to like about the 6-3 190 pound native of Finland. His frame still has room to mature at 24 years old, and his steady nature and "make the right play" demeanor are valuable assets to the Dallas defense. While his possession stats were essentially break-even, there is something to be said for that. Most rookie defensemen, regardless of which zone they start in, would take a positive Corsi in their first 51 games.
The sports world today demands stats. Produce or go back to the minors. Not enough Corsies? See ya later. Too many Fenwicks? Radek Faska is going to take your roster spot. The fact of the matter is, as useful as advanced metrics are in the hockey world, they do not tell the whole story.
Jyrki Jokipakka's improvement last year was not a story the box score can tell. Tracking his game log, there is no tangible difference between his first game and his last. Players like Jokipakka force bloggers and commenters to have a qualitative argument instead of a quantitative one, which can lead to some heated opinions about his forecast.
Jokipakka plays a flash-free game. Most of the time, Jokipakka is content to 9-iron the puck safely into neutral ice or reverse field to his defensive partner. I can count on one hand the number of stretch passes through the middle he slung last year. You know what else I can count on one hand? The numbers of times he gave up an odd man rush trying said pass. Jokipakka is what scouts refer to as a high-floor, low-ceiling prospect. With 2Pak the Stars know what they have.
There is something to be said for a guy that is going to predictably work his way up the curve, quietly turning potential into reality one year at a time.
With some prospects, the discussion centers around something fans wish he would stop doing. "I wish Dillon would stop skating the puck until he loses it." "I wish Oleksiak would stop passing the puck to the Red Team." "I wish player X would stop getting beat like a rented mule on the boards." The discussion around Jokipakka is not about what he needs to stop doing in order to improve, it's what he needs to start doing to improve.
Herein lies a subtle but important difference. Jokipakka has a solid foundation defensively. He is rarely out of position, he uses his reach effectively, and tends to exit the zone safely. How many young defensemen can say, "in order to improve I need to be more creative offensively"? That is a valuable luxury. He is predictable in the defensive zone with unexplored potential in the offensive zone.
Too often the Dallas Stars have been stuck with defensemen that have all the offensive ability in the world, but haven't figured out how to defend. Too many of those guys, and you end up with a lot of goals scored... for both sides. Jokipakka presents the Stars with a steady defenseman growing into his offensive game.
As far as his impact next season, it is probably low. Jokipakka is the bass player. If he is doing his job, everyone forgets he is on the team. Personally, I think he is a lock to start 75 games next year (barring injury). His calm and responsible game has considerable value. He will steadily improve, honing in on 51% positive Corsi for, and should see solid third pairing minutes all season.
Patience is easy to have with a guy like Jokipakka. His catastrophic errors are few and far between. Being a third pairing defenseman, his job is to take the offensive zone start, and try like hell to keep the puck out of his net while the top guys rest. This sort of responsibility fits Jokipakka's skill set, and should allow him to keep growing into his future role: the shut-down pairing.
We are a long ways from Jokipakka being a shut-down defenseman, but if he keeps making the right play and controlling his area, that could be his destiny in the NHL. Duncan Keiths don't grow on trees, but Ryan Suters and Stephane Robidas can. Jokipakka just needs some more time on the vine.
Expect 2Pak to play 17:00 minutes a game this year, most of which you forget about. That is not a bad thing. His boring game is not going to grab any highlight reels. He isn't going to fight anyone or score on the half-volley. But at the end of the year when someone asks you to name a goal against that was his fault, you will draw a blank.
Keep at it young fella'. Your boring game is a welcome sight.