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Jokinen takes center stage as fill-in for Pens' Malkin

| Friday, Dec. 6, 2013, 10:54 p.m.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
The Penguins' Jussi Jokinen celebrates his winning goal against the Bruins in the third period Wednesday, Oct. 30, 2013, at Consol Energy Center.

Everything about Jussi Jokinen is quiet, from his personality to the often ignored reality that he is on pace for 25 goals and 50 points this season.

Jokinen, however, is suddenly in the spotlight.

The forward, whose versatility intrigued general manager Ray Shero enough to acquire him at the trade deadline last spring, is filling in for the injured Evgeni Malkin at center on the Penguins' second line.

“I know he told me that it feels a little different going back to center from wing,” said center Brandon Sutter, who played on Jokinen's line in Carolina. “But he can do it all. He handled it awfully well.”

Since joining the Penguins eight months ago, Jokinen, 30, has been deployed in almost every role. He has seen significant minutes on the power play, penalty-killing unit and all four lines.

He has been a shootout specialist and is regarded among the league's stronger faceoff players.

And, of course, he has seen action at wing and center. Jokinen played center late in the regular season when Sidney Crosby was out with a broken jaw.

“He's got to be right there as one of the most (versatile players in the NHL),” Crosby said. “To (switch to center) so well is not easy. It tells you how good his hockey sense is.”

Jokinen, who has registered nine goals and nine assists while playing left wing with Malkin and James Neal on the second line, doesn't mind the sudden position change.

He almost views the situation from a coach's standpoint, realizing that his move to center is logical.

“I've always been very comfortable at every position,” Jokinen said. “It's always been one of my strengths, to play more than one position. Coming into the season, I knew there would be injuries and I'd probably play a little bit of everywhere.”

Jokinen was accurate in his assessment. The team's top two centers, Crosby and Malkin, have missed a combined 201 games during the past five seasons. While the team is pleased with the work of Sutter, their third-line center, they prefer to leave him in that role when one of their stars is injured.

Enter Jokinen, whose skill level makes him a natural to play a top-six role.

“Jussi's got that sneaky shot, and he's just one of those players who knows how to get open,” Sutter said. “I think he does a great job of that when he's playing with Nealer and Geno. ... He's just one of those guys who knows how to score.”

He knows how to do everything, according to his coach.

Bylsma was complimentary of Jokinen's faceoff work against San Jose — he won seven of 11 draws — and his overall work against one of the finest trios of centers.

Bylsma said he appreciates Jokinen's ability to switch positions on the fly.

“He's comfortable if we need to do change in the course of a game,” Bylsma said. “He's ready to do that. There's no adjustment period for him.”

With defensive ace Patrice Bergeron likely to play against Crosby on Saturday, Jokinen will be facing off against Boston's standout two-way center, David Krejci, most of the evening.

“San Jose was a challenge, and Boston will be, too,” Jokinen said. “But I'll do my best to be reliable. That San Jose game was a good start.”

Josh Yohe is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at jyohe@tribweb.com or via Twitter @JoshYohe_Trib.

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