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Joonas Donskoi: “I didn’t develop as a player the way I wanted to my first 4 years here.”

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Colorado Avalanche v Philadelphia Flyers
Joonas Donskoi #72 of the Colorado Avalanche looks on from the bench against the Philadelphia Flyers on February 1, 2020 at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
Photo by Len Redkoles/NHLI via Getty Images

Joonas Donskoi loved San Jose, but he was ready to move on.

After spending the first four years of his career with the San Jose Sharks, the UFA winger inked a four-year, $15.6 million dollar contract with the Colorado Avalanche on July 1.

“There were talks with the Sharks. It was tight with the cap space for them,” Donskoi said, before admitting, “But I feel like for me, the thought process was I didn’t develop as a player the way I wanted to my first four years here. I feel like I was kind of stuck in my game. I started thinking maybe it would be good for myself to change scenery, see something else, that would help me take the next step in my career.”

Donskoi’s contract year push with the Sharks was particularly frustrating, as he was forced down the line-up by a deeper forward group. For example, after averaging 1:30 per game on the power play during his first three seasons in teal, the winger’s ice time there was cut by almost a minute. He was also healthy scratched at times and endured a 34-game goalless slump.

“Especially last year, I couldn’t help the team the way I wanted to,” Donskoi said. “I started to get healthy scratched and stuff. I just couldn’t bring the game and the effort that I wanted to, that I know I’m capable of. So it was tough.”

Donskoi, however, took responsibility for these healthy scratches, which were surprising for a player of his skill.

“I never felt like it was unfair. There’s no coach out there who wouldn’t put the best guys out there. That’s just a fact,” Donskoi noted. “It was just probably what I deserved. I wasn’t bringing to the table what I needed to.”

He added, unprompted, “I have no hard feelings toward the coaching staff, kind of the opposite. Pete [DeBoer] and those guys gave me the chance to become an NHL player. Coming from Finland as an undrafted free agent, they gave me a chance to play. I’m thankful for that. Nothing bad to say about those guys.”

Donskoi is enjoying a new lease on life with the playoff-bound Avalanche, already setting a career-high in goals. While he’s currently mired in another slump, scoring two goals in his last 32 games, his place in the line-up appears secure, and he’s on pace for a career-high in playing time, averaging over two minutes more per game than he did in San Jose. Earlier this season, Donskoi was also given the opportunity to kill penalties on a regular basis, a personal first.

“It’s been a lot of fun this year,” Donskoi beamed. “A little bit different kind of team, different kind of players, a lot of young guys that can skate really, really well. We have a fast team.”