If Jussi Jokinen were a baseball player, he might best be described as a utilityman. But Jokinen is a hockey player, and that makes him versatile.
Jokinen, a forward acquired Wednesday by the Penguins in a trade with Carolina, joined the team for practice Thursday at Consol Energy Center. He is expected to play tonight when the New York Rangers visit, manning the center spot between Chris Kunitz and Pascal Dupuis.
That spot on the top line usually is filled by team captain Sidney Crosby, who is out because of jaw surgery.
"Probably it's going to be pretty much everywhere," Jokinen said of his role. "But I'm going to start with playing center because Sid is out, and then just go from there."
Penguins vs. New York Rangers, 7:08 p.m. today, Consol Energy Center.
- TV, Radio:
Root Sports, WXDX-FM (105.9).
- Probable goaltenders:
Tomas Vokoun for Penguins. Henrik Lundqvist for Rangers.
Have lost two games in row -- including 6-1 to Rangers Wednesday -- after winning 15 in row. ... Are 11-5 vs. Atlantic Division. ... Evgeni Malkin has 554 career points, one shy of tying Kevin Stevens for seventh place in team history.
Six goals Wednesday against Penguins a season high. ... Have lost two road games in a row. ... Are 11-2-1 when scoring first.
- Hidden stat:
The Rangers had season-high three power-play goals Wednesday vs. the Penguins, more than they had over their previous 11 games.
Jokinen can play center or either wing -- and that's not an embellishment he puts on his resume.
"I'm comfortable with all three," he said. "I don't even know what is my favorite position anymore. I've played so much at every [forward] position."
Jokinen has played and is willing to play on any line. His production has ranged from 30 goals with Carolina in 2009-10 to six in 33 games this season, when his playing time dropped. He cleared waivers last month without being claimed.
"I've done all of those roles," Jokinen said. "I've been an offensive guy, first line, scoring 30 goals. And then some years I've been a little bit more of a playmaker, and some years a little bit of a penalty-killing guy, a faceoff guy.
"I think that's always been my strength -- I can play every position, every role and just be versatile."
He didn't get to try out much of any role Thursday because there were only 10 players who participated in an optional practice. Kunitz and Dupuis were among those who opted out.
Jokinen, 30, isn't sweating the tutorial on the Penguins system. This is his fourth NHL team, and he has played several times on the national team for his native Finland.
"I've been through a lot of coaches," he said. "I think I can fit in with the system pretty quick and try to learn as quickly as I can."
One of his Finnish teammates at the world championships and 2006 Olympics was former Penguins winger Jarkko Ruutu. Jokinen hadn't had time to call Ruutu but planned to get some scoop on Pittsburgh from him.
Jokinen already had heard a lot about the Penguins. One of his Hurricanes teammates this season was Jordan Staal, who spent his first six NHL seasons with the Penguins before begin traded to Carolina last summer.
And then there is Hurricanes vice president of operations Ron Francis, a Hall of Famer who won two Stanley Cups as a two-way center with the Penguins in the 1990s. Francis formerly was a Carolina assistant coach, and Jokinen heard some stories.
"He said some great things about the organization, about playing with Mario [Lemieux] and [Jaromir] Jagr and winning two Cups here," Jokinen said. "And I heard lots of good things from Jordan Staal and other guys. It's a really exciting time for me."
It was Francis who called Jokinen to tell him he had been traded. That led to an awkward moment.
"He said they had traded me. And then there was a little silent moment. What's the team going to be?" Jokinen said. "When he said, 'Pittsburgh,' I was super excited."
Jokinen is versatile in other ways. He grew up working on his father's potato farm --"That was my first job," he said -- and never got sick of potatoes.
"I like it. It's good food," he said.
And while soccer is king in Europe, he loves NFL football.
"Football is my favorite sport other than hockey,"
His allegiance will be tested and very likely bent, though, considering he began his NHL career in Dallas. The Stars drafted him in the sixth round in 2001.
"So I've been watching the Cowboys," Jokinen said. "And I like to watch great quarterbacks like [Tom] Brady and [Peyton] Manning and [Aaron] Rogers and Big Ben, too."
That would be Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.
"I like the Steelers. I like Big Ben," Jokinen said. "But the Steelers haven't been my favorite team yet, but maybe that will change."
Just like his role with the Penguins likely will, and more than once.
For more on the Penguins, read the Pens Plus blog with Dave Molinari and Shelly Anderson at www.post-gazette.com/plus. Shelly Anderson: firstname.lastname@example.org and Twitter @pgshelly. First Published April 5, 2013 4:00 AM