Blackhawks swap prospects with Sabres, trade Henri Jokiharju

Blackhawks swap prospects with Sabres, trade Henri Jokiharju

The Blackhawks have had a busy offseason so far, and that continued on Tuesday when the team announced that they traded defenseman prospect Henri Jokiharju to the Buffalo Sabres in exchange for forward prospect Alex Nylander.

Nylander, who was taken No. 8 overall by the Sabres in 2016, has two years left on his entry-level contract that carries an $863,333 cap hit. He's 21 years old and spent the majority of the 2018-19 season in the American Hockey League, where he recorded 31 points (12 goals, 19 assists) in 49 games for the Rochester Americans.

Nylander is known to be an offensively-gifted player, but his production hasn't translated to the NHL yet as he has six points (three goals, three assists) in 19 career games for the Sabres. The Blackhawks are hoping a change of scenery and larger opportunity could help him unlock his full potential.

"It’s not easy to acquire talented players like Alex," GM Stan Bowman said on Tuesday's conference call. "He’s somebody we scouted, remember back in the draft year, we didn’t have a first-round pick that year. But we were very impressed with him. He’s a guy we had a lot of time for, and we knew we weren’t going to be able to draft him, drafting in the second round. But he’s such a high-skilled, talented player. So when those are the situations you’re looking at, trying to acquire someone like that, you have to deal from a position of strength."

But the bigger surprise is Jokiharju getting dealt, although perhaps it shouldn't have been because the math suggested somebody from the blue line was eventually going to be moved. First-round picks Nicolas Beaudin and Adam Boqvist have high-end potential and are both likely a year away from being pro-ready, as is second-round pick Ian Mitchell, and could factor into the equation as soon as next season.

"I guess maybe the progression of a lot of our other young defensemen to where we feel we’ve built up a good stable of young players and now we have the ability to make a move like this," Bowman said. "... With the progression of Mitchell and Boqvist, it’s nice to see how they’ve taken strides this year, much like Henri has. So it’s really more the depth of our defense prospects made this a move we were able to make. That’s probably the simple answer to why we were able to do this now as opposed to a year ago at this time."

Jokiharju, who was drafted No. 29 overall by the Blackhawks in 2017, appeared in 38 games with the Blackhawks last season and compiled 12 points, all of which were assists. He logged heavy minutes and played on the top pairing with Duncan Keith, but appeared to fall out of favor when the Blackhawks made a coaching change in November.

The questionable part is that the return for Jokiharju centered around a young prospect who's still developing but has question marks and doesn't fill an immediate need on the NHL roster, such as a top-nine forward. The Blackhawks like Nylander's versatility and perhaps he'll turn into a consistent top-six winger, but he's no lock to make the Opening Day roster.

"I expect him to be fighting for a spot on our team, for sure," Bowman said. "We don’t hand out those jobs in the summer, but I think with his offensive talent and his skill level, it’s certainly exciting to think what he can be when you put him with some of the players we have. If you look at our team last year, we have two pretty good pairs there between [Patrick] Kane and [Jonathan] Toews, [Dylan] Strome and [Alex] DeBrincat.

"One thing about Alex that’s appealing, as well, is he can play left and right wing. Not every player can do that, but he has the skill level to play on the off wing. Looking at our top two lines, one line we’re probably looking for a left wing, the other we’re looking for a right winger. Those tandems may not stay in place, but the way we ended the year, it’s probably something we’re going to start with. So now it’s a question of, who do we fill in around them and I think Alex is a candidate. But it’s still early to see where that’s going to go.

"I think just the flexibility of him playing left and right, and we don’t have a lot of right-handed skill forwards outside of DeBrincat. So from that perspective, it’s something we’ll look at it, give him an opportunity to be on our team. He’s been a pro for a couple of years now, so it’s not all new to him. The opportunity will be there. Now it’s going to be up to Alex, just like every other player in camp, to show what they can do and play their best hockey."

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Blackhawks mailbag: Could more trades be coming before 2019-20 season opener?


Blackhawks mailbag: Could more trades be coming before 2019-20 season opener?

Charlie Roumeliotis answers your Blackhawks and hockey-related questions. Be sure to chime in using the hashtag #HawksMailbag on Twitter for a chance to have your question answered in the next edition. 

Is there any chance we see the Hawks make a trade before the season starts?

The Blackhawks had as active a summer as any team, revamping their roster and filling out their depth through trades and free agency. And because of that, it's going to be an extremely competitive training camp.

While the organization acknowledged that it's important to be 26, 27 players deep throughout the course of an 82-game season, the Blackhawks have a handful of players fighting for the same spot or two: Drake Caggiula, Dominik Kubalik, Alex Nylander, Brendan Perlini, Dylan Sikura and Anton Wedin. Heck, even Kirby Dach.

August is always the dead period around the NHL. But come September, it wouldn't be surprising to see some movement around the league when teams figure out what they have on the ice. Training camp and preseason games are a time for GMs to evaluate who may be getting squeezed out, whether there's a breakout prospect emerging and it's also when the pressure point of having to be compliant with the cap.

The Blackhawks could be one of those teams looking to make a tweak or two before Opening Night, but don't expect anything significant.

Do you think Nylander makes the team this year or does he spend another season in the AHL? If he does makes the team, who do you see him fitting on a line with?

Alex Nylander is going to be given a fair shot to make the Blackhawks out of training camp, and it would be a disappointment if he didn’t. He was taken No. 8 overall in 2016 and simply hasn’t taken that next step in his development yet.

Perhaps the situation in Buffalo played a role in that, but it will truly be up to Nylander whether he does unlock his true potential in Chicago. There isn’t a reason for him not to. It’s a much healthier situation and the spotlight isn’t on him.

If Nylander does make the team, expect him to play with offensively-gifted players — guys who can help bring out the best in his abilities and think the game at the same level. But playing with those types of players also means you're drawing top competition on a nightly basis, so he will have to earn it.

Do you think all the additions this summer may be a strategic move to help prepare the Hawks for the expansion draft? (Keeping the prospects off the team till midseason or something so they remain draft protected/ineligible?)

Good question. The summer of 2020 is going to be a fascinating one for the Blackhawks because that's when teams are going to start making some moves ahead of the 2021 expansion draft. And as of right now, the Blackhawks are going to expose a really good player, whether they pick the seven forwards and three defensemen option or the eight skater one.

Patrick Kane, Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook and Jonathan Toews all have no-movement clauses, so they must be protected (unless the player approves of being exposed, which is highly unlikely). Alex DeBrincat and Dylan Strome are two others who must be protected, so that's six right there. Brandon Saad and Andrew Shaw are two others who are eligible. Same with Calvin de Haan, Olli Maatta and Connor Murphy. And if Erik Gustafsson signs an extension, he must be protected also.

Again, the list is deep. But to answer your original question, the primary focus this summer was to fill needs across the roster (physicality and defensive-minded players) and doing so through trades was the best possible option because they were able to get guys with term and a reasonable cap hit. Free agency is where the overpayment happens. The goalie situation for the Blackhawks is one to watch ahead of the 2021 expansion draft. 

As far as prospects go, Adam Boqvist and Kirby Dach will not be eligible for the expansion draft no matter how many games they play in this season and next because the draft happens before the 2021-22 calendar season. So that will not play a role in the organization's decision regarding when they play in the NHL.

What are your expectations for the goaltending tandem in Rockford? Delia appears to be the current starter, but Lankinen was really impressive this summer for Finland. Small-ish sample size, but he was phenomenal. Do you think it will end up being an even split at some point?

Collin Delia may have signed a three-year extension with the Blackhawks, but that doesn’t mean the organization doesn’t want to give Kevin Lankinen a strong look also. Delia has earned the right to be the starter, but the split between he and Lankinen will likely be closer to 50-50 if both goalies are performing.

Lankinen was sensational between the pipes for Finland at the 2019 IIHF World Championship, helping lead his country to a gold medal. But Delia is also taking significant steps in his development and doing so at a rapid pace. It should be a healthy competition in Rockford.

With so much prospect talk focused on Dach, Boqvist, & Delia (and rightfully so) is there a dark horse prospect (I'm talking about that under the radar grinder) fans should keep their eyes on & where are they expected to be playing this year so we can follow?

Two prospects come to mind when discussing potential dark horses: MacKenzie Entwistle and Philipp Kurashev. Both of them will be playing in Rockford this season.

Entwistle and Kurashev took significant steps in their development this past season, with Entwistle playing a key role in the Guelph Storm winning the OHL championship and Kurashev leading the 2019 IIHF World Junior Championships in scoring with six goals in seven games.

Entwistle is a player who knows exactly what his role will be in the NHL and has already embraced it: a bottom-six forward, reliable penalty killer and a leader on and off the ice. And that’s something the Blackhawks value about him.

Kurashev is more offensively skilled and has some sneaky upside to be a potential breakout player as a fourth-round pick. Keep an eye on him.

Is it October yet?

This really has felt like a long summer, hasn’t it? We’re almost there, Zane. 

A few checkpoints are coming up on the schedule though that may help speed up the process: Traverse City prospects tournament from Sept. 6-11, training camp festival on Sept. 15 and the first preseason game on Sept. 16. We're getting closer.

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SportingNews Top 50 NHL Prospects lists Boqvist at 10 and Kirby Dach at 13

USA Today

SportingNews Top 50 NHL Prospects lists Boqvist at 10 and Kirby Dach at 13

NHL draft analyst Steve Kournianos released his list for Top 50 players in NHL pipelines for the upcoming 2019-20 season. To the delight of Blackhawks fans everywhere, Adam Boqvist and Kirby Dach were ranked at number 10 and 13 respectively.

Kournianos described 19-year-old defender Boqvist as a dominant rookie with 40 assists and 20 goals during his tenure with the London Knights. Fans speculate whether the Blackhawks will keep Boqvist on his junior squad for another year or pull him up to play with the American Hockey League Rockford Ice Hogs.

Kournianos said Dach was one of Team Canada’s top players at the World Junior Summer Showcase. The 18-year-old center is sure to be one of Canada’s main forwards during World Juniors and Dach has the flexibility to play anywhere in the Blackhawks lineup. Dach’s entry-level contract allows him up to nine NHL games this season, giving him the chance to return to the AHL or NHL after his junior season in the Western Hockey League is finished.

Both Boqvist and Dach are key player for the future of this team and it will interesting to watch the Hawks develop these younger players.

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