Jokerit Helsinki in 2016-17
Jokerit have been the best of the KHL’s non-Russian contingent since the Finnish club joined the league in 2014, and they reinforced that claim with a third-overall finish in 2015-16. However, their run was unceremoniously derailed by a pesky Torpedo Nizhny Novgorod in the first round of the playoffs, and the team has seen a number of key players leave this summer. Can they recover from it? Read on…
Jokerit Helsinki in 2015-16: 31 W — 5 OT/SO W — 5 OT/SO L — 19 L
1st in Bobrov Div., 3rd in West Conf.*, 3rd in KHL. Lost in Conf. QF.
*Seeded 2nd for winning division.
Head Coach: Jukka Jalonen.
In: G Wouter Peeters (EC Salzburg U20 [AUT]); G Ryan Zapolski (Rauman Lukko [FIN]); D Chay Genoway (Spartak Moscow); D Joonas Jalvanti (Örebro HK [SWE]); D Oliver Lauridsen (Frölunda HC [SWE]); D Rasmus Rissanen (Charlotte Checkers [AHL]); F Marko Anttila (Örebro HK [SWE]); F Joey Hishon (San Antonio Rampage [AHL]); F Michael Keränen (Binghampton Senators [AHL]); F Masi Marjamäki (Porin Ässät [FIN]); F Mika Niemi (Oulun Kärpät [FIN]); F Brian O’Neill (Albany Devils [AHL]); F Sakari Salminen (Växjö Lakers [SWE])
Out: G Henrik Karlsson (Barys Astana); D Philip Larsen (Vancouver Canucks [NHL]); D Atte Ohtamaa (Ak Bars Kazan); D Jere Sneck (SaiPa [FIN]); D Daine Todd (Luleå HF [SWE]); D Ossi Väänänen (Retired); F Juhamatti Aaltonen (HIFK [FIN]); F Niko Kapanen (HPK [FIN]); F Tim Kennedy (Luleå HF [SWE]); F Brandon Kozun (Lokomotiv Yaroslavl); F Eetu Pöysti (Kunlun Red Star Beijing); F Jani Rita (Retired); F Jere Sallinen (Edmonton Oilers [NHL]); F Saku Salminen (SaiPa [FIN])
Both Karlsson and Riku Helenius got off to roaring starts in goal for Jokerit last season, but both also faded down the stretch. Karlsson still ended up with a reasonable .924 sv% over 45 games, but Helenius was sitting at a disastrous .891 (21 games) when the season ended. Karlsson is off to Barys, and Zapolski is tabbed as his replacement. That’s a decent bet; Zapolski went .927 for Lukko last season, in 55 games. So far, however, Huselius has started two of Jokerit’s three games, and he is once again starting well: his save percentage stands at .952. That late-season slump in their goaltending fortunes cost Jokerit dearly in 2015-16, and it will very important to avoid a similar thing this year.
Jokerit had a very nice scoring defence last season; unfortunately, it is the best of the bunch, Denmark’s Larsen (52 gp, 11-25-36), who has departed. However, Ville Lajunen (8 gp, 9-19-28) and Topi Jaakola (57 gp, 10-15-25) remain on the case, and both can certainly help support the forwards. Latvia’s Artūrs Kulda should once again provide some defensive strength to the group; he scored only 1-5-6 in 42 games last season, but his +14 led the entire team (by five over the next best!).
Among the incoming defensemen, Genoway, coming off a season of 56 gp, 9-20-29 at Spartak, should at least help replace Larsen’s departed offense. Lauridsen, another one of Jokerit’s Danes, is an interesting figure as well, if only because he stands 6’6″ and weighs 235 lbs. He has a little bit of NHL experience too, earned with the Philadelphia Flyers, which won’t hurt.
As with the defence, Jokerit’s forward group has a significant departure or two to deal with, but some real weapons remaining as well. Gone is Kozun, who led the team in points (58 gp, 15-34-49), and Aaltonen’s 15 goals will be missed as well. However, the team can still call on the services of Peter Regin (yet another important Danish player), whose 17 goals led Jokerit; his full line was 60 gp, 17-31-48. Pekka Jormakka is another key returning figure, after scoring 12-18-30 in 52 games. There are others, too, whom post length restricts me from mentioning, but suffice it to say that Jokerit scored 167 goals last season (only four KHL teams managed more), and while some that offense has departed, there is still a lot of solid depth available.
And the forward group has some promising new additions. Sakkari Salminen we discussed at length in this post: the short version is that I think he will do very well. O’Neill should be another helpful figure; after a couple of good scoring seasons in the AHL (including 80 points in 2014-15), he made a brief NHL debut this past year for New Jersey. Finally, Hishon will be an interesting one to follow; a first-round pick of the Colorado Avalanche after shooting the lights out for the OHL’s Owen Sound Attack, his career was derailed by concussions, and he never really broke into the NHL. But he’s coming off a decent AHL season (62 gp, 14-29-43), and he is still only 24 years old, so there’s plenty of time.
On balance, I do not think this Jokerit team is quite as strong as last year’s (their goaltending, in particular, remains unproven), and they have indeed stumbled a bit out of the 2016-17 gate with record of 1-2 so far. However, Jokerit were very good last season, and while the significant departures will hurt, there is enough here to keep the drop-off from being too extreme. They ought, once again, to be comfortably in the hunt for a top-four spot in the conference when all is said and done.
Next up: Lokomotiv Yaroslavl.