SAN JOSE – Just how obvious was it that Finland native Joonas Donskoi was the best player on the ice in the Sharks-Ducks rookie game on Saturday at SAP Center?
When a small media group entered the dressing room, Evgeni Nabokov – earlier in the day named as the team’s goalie development coach – pointed to Donskoi and told us, in front of the whole team, “There he is over there, number 27!”
Perhaps Nabokov has a future in public relations, too.
Donskoi scored two goals in the Sharks’ 4-1 win over the Anaheim youngsters, gobbling up a rebound to open the scoring in the first period on a backhand, and later cleaning up a loose puck in the slot with another backhand that appeared to deflect on its way in. Other than that, his smooth skating and vision all suggest that he’ll be a player to watch in training camp, and could very well push for an NHL spot on opening night.
“I want to make it to the big team of course,” Donskoi said after the game. “That’s my goal, and that’s a big goal. I’ve been looking forward to it, and been working hard this summer. I really hope I [can] make it.”
Barracuda coach Roy Sommer was behind the Sharks’ bench on Saturday, and was impressed with what he saw from Donskoi.
“He did a lot of good things,” Sommer said. “I thought he basically controlled the play. Had the puck a lot. Then when guys got close to him he knew when to dish.
“I thought he was the best player on both sides tonight if you were really looking for a guy.”
Donskoi’s path to the Sharks hasn’t been traditional. He was drafted by the Florida Panthers in the fourth round in 2010 but never made it. He continued to ply his trade in the Finnish league, though, and posted 49 points (19g, 30a) in 58 games last season before signing with the Sharks on May 20.
The six-foot, 195-pounder was named as SM-liiga’s best player in the playoffs, with 6 goals and 22 points in 19 games, helping his team to a league title.
At 23 years old, he should be much more NHL-ready than some of the teenagers he’s currently in camp with.
“I had a couple of bad seasons and I really had no chance to play for the Panthers,” he said. “Now I’ve had a couple of good seasons, so I think it’s the right time for me to come here.”
There are adjustments to make, of course, including playing on the smaller ice surface.
“Everything happens faster and you’ve got to be awake out there and make your decisions faster than in Europe. … It’s fast hockey, and it’s fun to play and probably fun to watch,” he said.
Donskoi won’t play in Sunday afternoon’s rematch between the Sharks and Ducks rookies, but his performance on Saturday was probably all that the team brass needed to see to know they have something.
Sommer certainly thinks they do.
“He was impressive. He sees the ice real well, and if he plays like that I don’t know if he’ll be a Barracuda.”