Jokinen makes his case, and so does Melrose
Jussi Jokinen spent most of the summer listening and reading about how he could be traded before the season so the team could cut its cap number and a glut at forward. But Jokinen is making that decision very difficult with a goal, three points, a shootout goal and a plus-3 rating in to games heading into tonight's with the Rangers.
Coach Barry Melrose said he has spoken to hockey ops chief about keeping Jokinen.
"Jokinen has been great," Melrose said. "He's been our best player for two games."
Jokinen, 25, who will make $1.8-million this season, has played center so far after being mainly a left wing last season after being acquired from the Stars in the Brad Richards deal. Jokinen said center is his natural position and likes it because he gets to handle the puck more and can "think" more on the ice.
Lawton did not commit to anything, but added, "There's no need for Barry to put a good word in for Jussi Jokinen with me. Jussi has played excellent."
"I think I've done a pretty good job of blocking it away," Jokinen said of the trade speculation. "I'm not thinking about it too much. The one thing I try to do is play as you can. That's going to help me."
Jokinen's emergence at center, as well as the hard-nosed edge brought by center Zenon Konopka (three fights on Monday), is putting some pressure on other centers in camp. Without naming names, Melrose sounded a warning.
"Hopefully Konopka has woke up some of the big centers of ours, and they have to realize they're going to have to change the way they're playing if they're going to make the team," Melrose said. They've got to play harder."
As for Steven Stamkos, Melrose continued to heap on the praise.
"He's an immense talent," Melrose said. "He's as fast as anybody on the ice. He's a great kid. He's sponge. Down the road we're going to say we're the luckiest organization in the world to finish last in 2008 because this kid is going to be special."
Melrose said it is no accident Stamkos is sitting next to vet Gary Roberts in the locker room.
"I've always been a guy to surround young guys with veterans," Melrose said. "Gary Roberts isn't going to teach Steven anything about skill. Gary Roberts will teach Steven a lot about professionalism and competitiveness and taking care of yourself. Part of winning is competing every night, and that's been Gary's M.O. since he came into the NHL. As long as we have Gary Roberts here, that's going to be one of his lasting legacies; what he's teaching those guys away from the rink about being a pro."