When Jussi Jokinen collided with Tampa Bay forward Ryan Shannon last night, his leg/ankle landed in a very awkward position and immediately I knew that it would be something bad, which it was. Jokinen is now out 3-4 weeks with what is being called a “lower-body injury.” Jokinen was the team’s best forward when playing at even strength last month and has been the most consistent when providing offense so this injury is huge. Carolina’s second line has arguably been their strongest this season and Jokinen plays a big role on it so that makes things even worse.
However, there are some positives we can draw out of this situation. The first one being that it opens up a spot in the top-six and both Ruutu and Skinner can play center so they can possibly take over Jokinen’s role there. When it comes to finding someone to move up to that line, I made a post yesterday about how the Canes have two young, offensively gifted prospects playing on the fourth line this year. This could be Zach Boychuk’s biggest chance to shine and show that he can be a top-six forward in the NHL. I don’t know if this means he will take over Jokinen’s spot or play on Staal’s line (which isn’t out of the question) but I think he will get his shot. The same goes for Zac Dalpe but he will be playing in Charlotte on a conditioning stint for the next week or so.
Also, Drayson Bowman was called up from Charlotte to take over Jokinen’s roster spot and if anyone remembers, I wrote a post about him and how I wanted him to make the team out of camp. I’m a little biased because I prefer a team that’s in a rebuild phase like Carolina is right now to give their younger players more time in the NHL if they have the roster space. Bowman already played 23 games during the 2009-10 season and failed to record a point but if you read the article linked earlier in the paragraph, I said that he was creating plenty of chances with tough ice time. He was playing bottom-six minutes but Bowman is pegged as more of a goal-scorer so I think this could be a big opportunity for him, as well. He did well in a checking role last season so it would not surprise me to see him used on the fourth line here but I wouldn’t rule out top-six minutes for him either.
Of course, there are players like Anthony Stewart and Alexei Ponikarovsky who may get another shot at the second line, too. Hell, Jiri Tlusty is playing on the first line now so anything can happen. My point is that while this is a huge setback, it also provides a big opportunity for the younger players on the roster. I just hope they can live up to the task because Jokinen was putting up points, creating chances, winning face-offs and playing a lot of tough minutes over the first month. Those are some big shoes to fill.