Joensuu Back At Square One on Island
When Jesse Joensuu first came onto the scene on Long Island, the immediate reaction was positive. Here was a big, hard-working forward who looked to provide some much-needed scoring for our starved offense.
After three seasons, the opposite proved to be true. Joensuu started out well, but his progress seemed to stall compared to other prospects. When called up, he showed flashes of promise, but nothing truly concrete. Then came training camp for the 2011-12 season, and the idea of being in Bridgeport for yet another season opener proved less appealing to him than playing a more prominent role on a Swedish Elite League team.
So Joensuu made the leap across the Atlantic Ocean and posted 29 points (13 G, 16 A) for HV71 Jonkoping. He also had a good showing in the IIHF World Championships for his native Finland, who won bronze. Now stateside once more, he looks to get back into the league he's always wanted to be in for good.
“There’s a lot of young guys coming up to the NHL trying to make the team,” Joensuu said. “I’m not in the same position as some of the 18 and 19-year-olds who teams expect more out of than players my age and in my situation. At the same time, I feel much more confident, much more mature and much more ready to play in the NHL. I’m prepared to take the next step and become an NHLer full-time.” (source: Islanders.nhl.com)
Of course, that might mean playing on the fourth line for a while until he establishes himself. John Link posted on Monday that he believes JJ will be working from the bottom back up, and that is a fair assessment. While it's believed that his return will bring a more mature, more focused player, he still finds himself up against competition from younger prospects for higher roster spots -- not to mention, guys like Michael Grabner, who are established scorers (more or less).
The problem here is whether or not Joensuu will be able to prove himself a decent player with a guy like Marty Reasoner, who did not perform nearly as well as expected last season. Reasoner's never been exponentially gifted as an offensive player, but last season he managed only one goal and one of the worst plus-minuses on the team. His play certainly didn't help out an already-struggling Nino Niederreiter, who played with him for much of the season, so he'll have his work cut out for him this year -- and if he struggles again, expect his linemates to struggle with him (or a call-up to take his place).
Of course, if Grabner fails to rebound from a sub-par sophomore season and JJ excels, we may see Joensuu on the third line at some point, but likely not on a higher line. Kyle Okposo is looking to build off of a strong second half in 2011-12, and Brad Boyes is expected to give him competition for the top line RW position. These two will likely be in either of the top two RW spots, unless Boyes experiences similar setbacks on the Island as in Buffalo (hopefully not).
Overall, Joensuu should take the opportunity to establish himself as an NHLer in training camp this year, as well as on whatever line he finds himself on come the opening faceoff against Pittsburgh.