Big changes are nothing new to Daine Todd.
The former captain of the Medicine Hat Tigers has headed over to Helsinki, Finland, to play with Jokerit in the Kontinental Hockey League.
In the previous six years Todd went from the WHL to Canadian Interuniversity Sport, to the American Hockey League and underwent a major position change in the province — the KHL is just a new challenge for the Red Deer product.
“I felt like the KHL was another step forward in my hockey career. I want to keep progressing as a player in Finland and see what the future holds from there,” he said in an email.
Jokerit was one of the most successful franchises from the Finnish Elite League (SM-Liiga), developing NHL stars like Teemu Selanne and Jari Kurri.
But this spring a group of Russian businessmen — Gennady Timchenko, Arkady Rotenberg and Boris Rotenberg — bought into the club and moved them into the Russian-dominated league.
In the process, Kurri was named the new general manager of the club.
Todd caught the hockey hall of famer’s eye while playing this past year for the Portland Pirates in the AHL, and negotiations on a contract started soon after that.
Daine had accomplished a lot in his first year of pro hockey after graduating from the University of New Brunswick with a bachelor of science degree in chemical engineering.
In 54 games in Portland, he scored three goals and 29 assists, finishing second on the Arizona Coyotes farm team in scoring for defencemen. However, there were a couple of things playing against the 26-year-old. His minus-18 rating showed that he still has some developing to go through, particularly in his own end, and considering his age, his ceiling would be limited in North America.
Also, his stature — five-foot-10, 170 pounds — has him lacking that prototypical NHL size for a defenceman.
Still, he said there was interest from Arizona in a new contract, but he always viewed his future in Europe.
“The offer and opportunity in my mind from Jokerit in the KHL was too good to pass up,” said Todd. “I would have likely had to pass on the Jokerit deal to see what opportunities might have come in North America. It was a fairly simple decision for me to move forward with going to Finland.”
Though their exhibition season just ended, Daine says the club will be putting his offensive acumen to good use.
“So far I have been expected to be a skating, puck moving defencemen,” he said. “I look to create offence as much as I can whether that comes off the power play or regular shift.”
Todd comes by his offence honestly. He was a forward for most of his hockey life, putting up respectable numbers along the way‚ including 65 points (25-40-65) in 70 games in his final WHL season, and 28 points (11-17-28) in 28 games in his freshman season at UNB.
But before the start of his final season at university, his head coach Gardiner MacDougall approached him about making the switch to the blue-line, and he figured he’d give it a try.
“Although I had certain doubts about making the change especially in my final year, it ended up being a positive season for myself and the team, winning a national championship,” he said.
Todd was solid in his first year on defence, scoring 18 points (4-11-15) in 28 games with a plus-9 rating, he was even better in the University Cup, scoring four points (2-2-4) in three games with a plus-4 mark.
He parlayed that success into a two-game amateur tryout with the Texas Stars at the end of the 2012-13 season and showed well enough to earn a tryout with the Pirates where he earned a spot for the 2013-14 campaign.
“I had to learn and adjust quickly to be able to compete and play at that level,” said Todd. “Having only played defence for one prior year in University, it made stepping into the pro hockey ranks a little bit more challenging. I was given a good opportunity in Portland to play and tried to make the most of it in my first year.”
The KHL should be more suited to Todd’s style of play. Being a smaller, skilled defenceman, he will have more room to operate on the international-sized ice, while the game across the pond also has less of a physical element to it.
The biggest adjustment may come in the form of travel, with more than 6,700 kilometres separating Helsinki from their furthest opponent — Vladivostok Admiral.
In Helsinki, he has a number of things to get used to like the food, lifestyle, driving and a few other things, but he says one big help is that most people there do speak English to some level.
“The players and team have been a great help in setting myself and my girlfriend up here in Helsinki,” he said. “I have really enjoyed Helsinki so far and feel like I made a good decision in coming to play here.”
As far as a return to North America to play hockey closer to home, he’s not ruling anything out.
“Both the NHL and making a career out of playing a game I love have been dreams of mine. I will, for now, just continue to try and get better and see where things go.”