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Veteran forward Jokinen joins Maple Leafs amid uncertain future with club

02/16/2015 01:10 EST | Updated 04/18/2015 05:59 EDT
TORONTO - Olli Jokinen doesn't know how long he'll be a Toronto Maple Leaf, but there are no doubts regarding where he'll play with his new team.

Interim head coach Peter Horachek said Jokinen, 36, will play centre when he joins the lineup. The Leafs acquired Jokinen, prospect Brendan Leipsic and a 2015 first-round pick from the Nashville Predators on Sunday for defenceman Cody Franson and forward Mike Santorelli.

Jokinen took his physical Monday but didn't practise — similarly Leipsic didn't skate with the AHL Marlies — because the deal hadn't been finalized. It's unclear if Franson and Santorelli will complete their physicals in time to allow Jokinen to play Tuesday night against the Florida Panthers.

Jokinen recorded just three goals and three assists in 48 games this season, his first with Nashville, and had played just once in February. The six-foot-two, 210-pound forward signed a one-year, US$2.5-million free-agent deal with the Predators last summer but said a reason for his lack of production was the club's decision to play him on the wing instead of centre, his natural position.

"I don't know what happened between July 2 and training camp but I found myself on the wing, playing right wing most of the year," Jokinen told a large media gathering at Mastercard Centre. "I was very uncomfortable, I have never played wing before in my life.

"I think I wasn't used properly there . . . at the same time as a player you try to do your job as best you can. I didn't go to the coaches and tell them to put me at centre, I tried to do my role the best I could. About two weeks ago what I was doing wasn't good enough anymore and I'm here now."

Jokinen wasn't overly surprised to be dealt to Toronto, adding he felt something was imminent.

"I would say the last five or six days they (Predators) were pretty open about it, about their plans," he said. "It's a numbers game. I was trying to do everything possible to get back in the lineup.

"It's a tough part of the business . . . you never know what's going to happen. I wasn't fine being the extra guy because nobody wants to be that extra forward and not play but at the same time I was part of a first-place team."

Nashville (38-12-6, 82 points), in fact, has the NHL's best record. But Toronto (23-29-5, 51 points) is in a free fall, having dropped 22 of its last 26 games to stand 12 points behind eighth-place Boston in the Eastern Conference standings entering Monday's action.

Despite that, Jokinen is happy to be a Maple Leaf.

"Absolutely, why wouldn't I be," he said. "You're still in the NHL and you get the experience to play on an Original Six team.

"Everything here is first class so this is the way it is now. I will try to do my best here. When you're a player, you play and other people make decisions for you."

Toronto becomes the ninth NHL stop for the well-travelled Jokinen, who was Los Angeles's third-round pick in 1997. The Finnish-born player has accumulated 746 career points (320 goals, 426 assists) in 1,217 regular-season games with the Kings, New York Islanders, Florida, Arizona, Calgary, New York Rangers, Winnipeg and Nashville.

But there are serious questions regarding just how long Jokinen will be here. On Sunday, Toronto GM Dave Nonis said he expects teams to inquire about Jokinen prior to the March 2 NHL trade deadline.

"I don't know," Jokinen said when asked about his future in Toronto. "Right now I am a Maple Leaf and I will approach it day by day.

"You've got to respect the game, you've got to respect the players you play with and you've got to enjoy playing this game. That's the bottom line. You do what they tell you to do."

And Horachek said Jokinen will be told to play centre when he's cleared to do so.

"He's played 1,200 games, we need that experience right now," Horachek said. "He's a big man, he's played in a lot of situations.

"He's going to play centre and we'll just work around that and try to get him going."

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