The Blackhawks couldn't have been more pleased with how Henri Jokiharju performed at the 2019 World Juniors. He was one of Finland's best and most reliable players, and played a crucial leadership role for his country that won gold.
But he hasn't been as effective on the blue line as he was before he left.
In four games since returning to the Blackhawks, Jokiharju has one assist, two shots on goal, a minus-3 rating and is averaging only 14:47 of ice time. He averaged exactly 20:00 minutes of ice time per game in his first 32 contests and was among the top Chicago skaters in 5-on-5 ice time.
On Sunday against the Washington Capitals, he was a healthy scratch.
"I think as a 19-year-old, we're pleased with his progression," coach Jeremy Colliton said. "It's not going to happen overnight where he becomes a dominant player at this level. There's going to be ups and downs, and that's part of the journey as a young player. You got to go through some adversity, and it's not going to be perfect and that's fine. It's up to us to give us to give him the feedback he needs to continue to improve and up to him to work as hard as he can."
To be fair, Jokiharju hasn't exactly been put in the best positions to succeed as of late. In one of the games, he was moved to the left side as an experiment for the Blackhawks, who organizationally have a surplus of right-handed shot defensemen. In another, the team rolled with seven defensemen, which makes it difficult for any defender to get in a groove.
The other part of the equation is that the Blackhawks are currently at seven defensemen, and have another on the way when Gustav Forsling returns from his upper-torso injury. Somebody needs to come out. Two guys, actually.
The Blackhawks aren’t looking at this stretch for Jokiharju as a setback. They know player developments aren’t linear, especially with young defensemen. So they’ll be patient with him and make sure he’s growing into the player they all want him to become at his own pace, even if it means cutting back his ice time.
"I'm not sure the way to go is to play them until they drown," Colliton said. "I think we try to give them what they can handle and sometimes maybe give them less than they can handle while giving them feedback, whether it's off-ice work or video work or extra practice time. That can be part of the picture. We could end up with a rotation on defense with some of the young guys we have. That wouldn't be a bad thing either. We have some young players. It's tough to play 82 games at this level against top competition night in and night out. It could be an option to lighten the load somewhat."Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Blackhawks easily on your device.