RALEIGH — A little more than a year after he was traded by the Tampa Bay Lightning, Carolina Hurricanes forward Jussi Jokinen is having the season of his career.
He leads the team with 29 goals and 62 points as one of the most versatile players on the roster.
But it hasn't been all positive for Jokinen, who went from playing limited minutes with the Lightning to playing a big role on the Hurricanes' top two lines this season.
In September of last season, Jokinen's father became sick, and he died last March, about a month after the trade.
"It's been an especially tough time for me and my family," said Jokinen, who has said very little publicly about his father. "It's tough to lose your dad, who's been coaching you and has been your biggest supporter."
Just as he had a support system in Tampa, with veterans such as Mark Recchi encouraging him, he's had a good support system in Carolina. And it doesn't hurt that two of his countrymen from Finland, forward Tuomo Ruutu and defenseman Joni Pitkanen are here, too.
"I just tried to listen to him if he wanted to talk," Pitkanen said.
Despite his success this season, Jokinen fell short of his two biggest goals - to get back to the Stanley Cup Playoffs and to represent Finland in the Olympics.
The team's fortunes take away from the accomplishment, he said.
"You can't enjoy it as much as you would if you were going to the playoffs," he said. "I would trade my goals for a Stanley Cup."
Canes coach Paul Maurice noted that Jokinen's career year came after the team gave him a two-year, $3.4 million extension last summer.
"There's guys that take it easy after their contract year," Maurice said. "He did the opposite."
And Jokinen was a big part of last year's deep run in the playoffs, when he scored seven goals and perhaps the most dramatic playoff goal in franchise history, deflecting in defenseman Dennis Seidenberg's shot with .2 seconds left to beat the New Jersey Devils in Game 4 of the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs last spring.
Fans began adding emphasis on the "Oh, say can you see" verse of the National Anthem, as had been done by Dallas Stars fans earlier in his career.
Maurice said Jokinen can play different positions without having to be reminded of the different systems in place for each position. He has played on all four lines since last season and has been used both to kill penalties and on the power play. He is second on the team in power play goals (10) this season.
"Because of his intelligence level, he's a guy you can easily move around," Maurice said.
Playing alongside center Eric Staal and forward Ray Whitney is a big reason he has been so prolific this year, both Jokinen and Maurice said.
"You have to have some good players around you in order to bring the most out of you," Maurice said.
Said Staal: "He finds those areas on the ice where he reads the play and can pick off passes and can hit you in holes to create chances. And in his own end, he's just smart."
Jokinen feels fortunate.
"Hockey wise, I've had a really good time since getting traded here," Jokinen said. "I think it was just a matter of getting a chance and having an organization that believes in me."
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