The Free Press, Mankato, MN

Sports

June 25, 2008

NHL doesn’t joke around with MSU recruit

MSU right wing Justin Jokinen was selected by the Buffalo Sabres in the NHL draft last week

Justin Jokinen must have a fairly positive outlook on life.

The soon-to-be Minnesota State freshman hockey player tuned in to watch the first round of the National Hockey League draft Friday night just “hoping something might happen.”

Although projected to be a future NHL player, Jokinen wasn’t picked to go in the first-round pick. As it turns out, the Carlton native wasn’t taken until the fourth round — late Saturday morning — by the Buffalo Sabres.

Although some experts thought he might go a little higher than that, Jokinen was anything but disappointed.

Buffalo, one of the teams that Jokinen had interviewed with at the draft combine in May, called him just before the 101st overall pick to say they were selecting him.

“Five seconds later, I saw my name on the television,” he said. “I was super excited to see my name up there.”

At 6-foot-3, 185 pounds, the right wing might make some Mavericks fans think of David Backes.

Although Jokinen says he has also heard the comparison made to the former All-American and current St. Louis Blues forward, MSU coach Troy Jutting said they are very different players.

“For a kid that’s 6-3, he’s a great skater,” Jutting said of Jokinen. “His skating ability and his skill level are extremely good.”

Jokinen was ranked 54th in the NHL Central Scouting Service’s predraft rankings of North American-born skaters. Since that list does not include goaltenders, Europeans or the whims of the league’s individual teams, the middle-round picks are usually a mystery.

“I talked to a lot of scouts and a lot of people, and some guys told me he could possibly go as early as the second round,” Jokinen’s high school coach, Dave Esse, said. “I was a little disappointed that he went in the fourth round. ... But it’s all in the eye of the beholder. There’s someone out there for everybody. It’s like a dating service; you never know what they’ll like.”

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