The versatility of the Hurricanes top-six is something that I have often praised on this blog and many other places. Having a few players who can effectively play both center and wing and all but one player slated to be in the Hurricanes top-six next season can do that, the one exception being Alexander Semin. How the team will roll their lines next season is anyone's guess at this point, but there have been a lot of predictions saying that Eric Staal will be the one moving over to the wing on the first line with his brother, Jordan, playing center.
Eric has experience playing on the wing but he still hasn't played there for a substantial amount of time aside from the Olympics. Making the assumption that he will be able to play there full-time without issue is a bit premature and it's also overlooking a player who has more experience playing on th wing, that player being Jussi Jokinen. Jokinen played center full-time last year and was very successful at it, but let's remember that he played left wing in the two previous years and was very successful in that role. He also had his best offensive seasons in the years he was playing on the wing so it seems like if anyone is going to be moving over, it will be Jokinen.
There are reasons to keep him at center, though. Jokinen was the team's best face-off guy last season and his popular line with Jeff Skinner and Tuomo Ruutu was the team's best unit in terms of controlling scoring chances at even strength. It might be wise for the Hurricanes to keep that line intact given their success, but the additions of Jordan Staal and Alex Semin sort of changes that. The Hurricanes have more offensive weapons to use now, so might be able to spread out their lines a little more evenly than they have for the last couple years.
Ultimately, the Hurricanes are going to do what optimizes Jokinen's skills the best and what helps the team the most, so does that mean keeping him at center or moving over to the first line? After the jump, we will look at Jokinen's history at both positions and determine what suits him best.
Pinpointing the exact games where Jokinen played each position is a little too difficult for this study but one thing we do know is that he spent the majority of the 2009-10 and 2010-11 seasons on the wing and was a center for most of last season. We also know that he was drafted as a natural center and played that position for most of his time with the Dallas Stars. The Tampa Bay Lightning, however, used Jokinen on the wing after they traded him in 2008, but used him as a center for most of the next season before he was traded to the Hurricanes. With this in mind, we can look at the specific years to see Jokinen's production at each position.
To measure his production, we are going to look at the amount of shots and points he was creating at even strength relative to his ice-time. We are also going to look at his even strength shooting percentage and the amount of shots his team was producing when he was on the ice. What this will do is show how much offense the Hurricanes were creating with Jokinen on the ice and how much of it was coming from Jokinen.
Data courtesy of Behind The Net.
The first thing that comes to mind when looking at this table is that Jokinen doesn't shoot the puck that much at all. Having 6 shots on goal per 60 minutes at even strength isn't a low number, but it isn't a lot for someone who regularly plays in the top-six. He seems to take more shots when he is playing on the wing, though because his shot rates seemed to go down whenever he was playing center. The Lightning used him as a center in 2008-09 and he predominately played center for the Hurricanes last year and his shot rate at even strength was very low in both seasons. Jokinen shoots the puck more when he is playing on the wing and he also scored at a higher rate during those years.
Was his higher scoring rate a direct result of playing on the wing, though? Not necessarily. Playing with better linemates probably helped, but he also had a lot of puck luck in those years, especially the season where he netted 30 goals. He shot at 18.7% at even strength that year and the Hurricanes scored on over 10% of the shots they took when he was on the ice. It's true that some players are better finishers than others but a shooting percentage that high is going to come down at some point and it did for Jokinen the next couple of seasons. Obviously, it didn't help that he was shooting the puck less. Moving him back to wing will open up more opportunities for him at even strength and it could lead to him scoring more often but we don't know that for sure.
Jokinen had only 12 goals last season (7 of which coming at even strength) and given his shooting percentage, he should be able to top that next season. From the looks of things, a move to wing could lead to his shot rate improving to where it was a couple years ago (or at least get it higher than it was last year) and he should have some more opportunities to score, especially if he is going to playing with Eric Staal. That could lead to more goals for Jokinen but he isn't automatically going to score more just because he's getting more chances to shoot the puck. Whether or not Staal is good enough to influence his teammate's his shooting percentage isn't proven, but getting to play with a top-tier center never hurts anyone.
It is also worth noting that Jokinen did some considerable damage on the powerplay last season (3 goals & 18 points) and he normally played on Eric Staal's wing in those situations, so maybe some more time with him at even strenght could lead to more offense from Jokinen. After all, these two were regular linemates during Jussi's 30-goal season and while we probably can't expect that kind of output from him, it isn't unreasonable to think that he can produce more offense if he is playing on Staal's wing again. At the very least, we should expect his shot rate to improve and if it doesn't, then we will have a lot more things to worry about.