(Donskoi Sharks photo: Zeke Mo)
Perhaps overlooked in San Jose's second-straight convincing win over the St. Louis Blues on Thursday, was the second goal of the game scored by Sharks rookie forward Joonas Donskoi.
The Sharks now hold a 2-1 series lead over the Blues in the Western Conference final after the 3-0 win. Donskoi's goal may have flown under the radar, but it was a critical insurance marker to go up 2-0.
The way the play developed leading up to Donskoi's goal is a perfect example to one of the reasons the Finnish born winger has been such a standout rookie this season. That especially long stick Donskoi uses allowed him to break up the high speed rush from the Blues, springing him and his linemates the other way on an odd-man attack. You can see the replay video by clicking this link.
Donskoi reads the pass and breaks it up with a stick reach just in time. If you watch 27 in teal closely on a regular basis, he is constantly forcing turnovers with the poke check. As a smaller guy at just six-feet tall, 180 pounds, opponents don't expect him to have that type of reach and it has caught them off guard all season long.
Very few hockey players have longer than normal sticks that aren't commensurate with their size. Donskoi and teammate Matt Nieto are the only two on the Sharks that use this type of stick. That is about the going rate for most teams, some clubs don't have any player with an abnormaly long twig for their size.
Why Donskoi's Stick Length Stands Out
For those who play the game, stick length is all about preference. Most will use a pretty average stick length, while some use a bit shorter and even fewer go with a longer than normal stick. However, those who use a longer stick usually give up the ability to stick handle in tight spaces. Nieto for instance, is not a great stick handler, but is great on the forecheck along the boards.
The most well-known puckhandlers in the league like Sidney Crosby, Patrick Kane and Johnny Gaudreau are smaller players, with either average or in the case of Crosby and Gaudreau, significantly shorter than average sticks. Dangling around people and through one's own skates is usually made much easier with a shorter stick. For newer hockey fans, think of it as like the length and weight of a baseball bat. Guys who use longer/heavier bats can better cover the outside pitch, but for those tall, long-arm guys who usually use those types of bats, it's harder for them to get to that inside pitch.
What makes Donskoi so fascinating though with his long stick is that he is still able to be one of the best puck handlers on the team. If any Sharks player is remotely comparable to a guy like Gaudreau stylistically, it would be Donskoi. Yet Donskoi's stick length is usually what you would see someone three or four inches taller use.
Underrated Free Agent With a Ton of Skill
A smaller guy like Donskoi with that type of stick is not supposed to be able to stick handle in tight spaces. It is really quite mind boggling to watch him with the puck. Essentially, Donskoi has the offensive skillset that combines (to use another baseball analogy) the power and long reach of a Madison Bumgarner but he's also extremely quick to the inside pitch like a Matt Duffy or Kelby Tomlinson.
Signed this offseason out of Finland to little fanfare (most of us in the media thought he might start the season in the minors), Donskoi has been a tremendous top-9 forward all season for the Sharks. In the regular season he chipped in an impressive 36 points in 76 games and now through 15 playoff games, he has produced a solid eight points. Donskoi is one of a handful of terrific offseason additions that have done an excellent job supplementing San Jose's alreadly lethal core. He's just another reason to like San Jose's chances to win six more games in these playoffs and hoist their first ever Stanley Cup.