Nobody in teal burst more on to the scene last year than Joonas Donskoi who became a fan favorite during his rookie year in teal.
On October 7, 2015, there were only two new forwards in the San Jose Sharks lineup from the finale of the 2014-15 campaign: Joel Ward and Joonas Donskoi. Both turned out to be fantastic additions, fan favorites and game-changers for the Sharks. Only one of them though, the rookie Donskoi, figures to be a staple in the Sharks lineup for years to come, as Ward is 35 years-old.
Donskoi is a player anyone would love to have on their team because he makes others around him better and is a complete, two-way forward.
The Finn finished the year with 36 points (11, goals, 25 assists) in 76 games and added 12 points (six goals, six assists) in 24 playoff games. He wasn’t on the ice a whole lot compared to other top-nine forwards with a 14:09 ATOI , but he typically made the team better during shifts.
At first glance at his season and playoff stats, his plus-four rating and just 20 penalty minutes in the regular season bodes well. Digging a bit deeper, he finished the regular season and playoffs fourth on the team in both Corsi (53.3, 52.2 in playoffs) and Fenwick (54.8, 53.4 in playoffs), meaning the Sharks had more total shot attempts and more unblocked shot attempts, respectively, than their opponent at even strength.
Donskoi was maybe the most consistent forward not named Joe Pavelski or Joe Thornton. From November-March, his monthly point totals were as follows: 6, 8, 8, 6, 8. He went scoreless in more than four consecutive games only once (five games). Check out a couple of his regular season highlights:
He immediately made an impact in the postseason, notching an assist on Tomas Hertl’s game-tying goal in Game 1 against the Kings. However, he wasn’t noticed much in the next three contests, failing to tally a point, registering a minus-two rating and throwing a total of only three shots on goal.
But Donskoi made up for a subpar three-game stretch with a two-goal showing in Game 5 and he was a big reason team teal got rid of the Kings in five games.
He continued his success from the Kings series-clincher into the Nashville series when he tallied an assist in Game 1 and finished the seven-game showdown with four points. He was also on the ice for two Sharks goals in the dominating Game 7 victory.
But for the “Donkey,” as fans alike call him, that wouldn’t even come close to being his best moment in the playoffs. Most likely the best moment of his hockey career came when he scored the game-winning overtime goal in Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Final against Pittsburgh.
If the Sharks had lost this game, this could have been a sweep and the season would’ve ended on a much different note. Yet, Donskoi took matters into his own hands and single-handedly won the game for his team on the unbelievably accurate, near-post snapshot to give San Jose and its fans life, helping push the series to a competitive six games.
The 24-year-old spent time on the first, second and third lines at times throughout the season and in the playoffs, finding success anywhere he was playing. He is a very versatile player who spent time on the first line due to the injury to Hertl in parts of Game 4, Game 5 and Game 6 of the final series.
Donskoi’s game is similar in many ways to that of now retired NHL’er and a legend of this era, Pavel Datsyuk, and that’s not to put pressure on him or say his career will ever live up to Datsyuk – one of the best forwards in the last 15 years and a potential Hall of Famer – however he has similar strengths. Just like Datsyuk, Donskoi is fantastic on both ends of the ice, can score highlight reel goals, makes plays out of nothing for his teammates and is better than average at winning battles on the boards.
His puck-handling, quickness and hands showed to be some of the best of anyone in the entire playoffs and he has enough experience playing six years professionally in Finland to make a big jump next year.
After last season’s disappointing finish, Sharks GM Doug Wilson finally convinced Donskoi to make the jump across the pond from Finland to the NHL, and that move cannot be overlooked in all of Wilson’s successes. Without Donskoi, the Sharks would not have reached the Stanley Cup Final.