Janne Kuokkanen was sitting in Starbucks with a few of his friends and teammates when he got the call from his agent—he had been traded to the New Jersey Devils.
At first, he was shocked, as expected for those in his position, but would soon shake the feeling and replace it with excitement. A new organization to grow with, a club developing a young roster of talent with a very bright future where he would fit right in.
His offensive play made him a highly valuable asset and a key piece in the Sami Vatanen trade to Carolina, according to Interim General Manager, Tom Fitzgerald. The return in a player like Kuokkanen is invaluable because you know what you are getting, a second-round prospect with the ability to put up points.
Kuokkanen was drafted 43rd overall in the 2016 NHL Entry Draft by the Carolina Hurricanes. In 163 games with the Charlotte Checkers, the forward has recorded 124 points (37 goals and 87 assists) and joined Binghamton as its leading goal scorer and points leader.
“I’m more of an offensive player, I like to make plays and keep on the goal,” the 6’1, 194-pound forward said of his game. “That’s what I do best. I like to pass the puck and get it back and move quick.”
— Binghamton Devils (@BingDevils) March 1, 2020
Kuokkanen joined the Binghamton Devils at a time where they were just three points out of a playoff position with two games in hand.
“I think it’s really good to be here,” Kuokkanen said. “This team has been really good since Christmas and I can bring something good from my game to this team. I hope I can help this team to make a playoff spot.”
And he seems to be doing just that. In his first three games with the AHL team, the left winger has tallied four points (two goals and two assists). The team is now just one point out of the playoffs, going 21-7-0-0 since Dec. 27.
— Binghamton Devils (@BingDevils) February 29, 2020
“I will say he came in and jumped into the lineup seamlessly,” Mark Dennehy, head coach of the Binghamton Devils, said of his addition. “He’s very attentive to detail and has a real good skillset. He’s a very smooth skater with a good change of pace, sees the ice well and is ready to shoot. He has a good release. I think he is an excellent player and that is what he has shown so far.”
With his skills, Kuokkanen believes he is a great fit for New Jersey and is excited about the potential impact he can have throughout the organization, including the AHL team’s playoff chances.
“It’s been really fun to be around a really good team—a fast, skilled team. I really like to be here,” Kuokkanen stated. “It feels really good to be around and I think I can help this team with my offensive play.”
Kuokkanen, 21, brings the team some playoff experience, skating with Charlotte in their 2017-18 playoff campaign. The Oulunsalo, FIN native did not play during the Checkers’ 2018-19 Calder Cup run due to injury, so joining Binghamton in their playoff push brings a new chance for him to gain that experience if they continue packing on the points.
“The playoffs are the reason we play this game,” said Kuokkanen. ‘It’s a really fun time and we just have to play our game and that’s going to be enough to make the playoff spot. I’m really trying to help this team to make that goal”
While he is happy to help Binghamton in their playoff push, the NHL is the ultimate goal.
“[Fitzgerald] called me after the trade and welcomed me to the organization,” the forward said. “He was really happy to have me on the team. This is a new chance for me to make myself a better player. It’s really good to be around and hopefully I’ll be in New Jersey one day.”
That day may come sooner rather than later for Kuokkanen, but the pressure to move up quickly is not getting to him.
“I’m just going to play my game. Smart hockey, battle hard. Just be smart on the ice and try to show them that I am a trustful guy and they can put me on the ice whenever they want.”