Blackhawks

Blackhawks trade back, select Henri Jokiharju at No. 29

Blackhawks trade back, select Henri Jokiharju at No. 29

The Blackhawks made their third trade of the day Friday night, but this one didn't have the same magnitude as the first two.

Still, history was made in Chicago as the Blackhawks made their selection in front of their hometown fans for the the first time in league history.

Gary Bettman announced the first deal of the NHL Draft involved Chicago, which shipped its No. 26 overall pick (goaltender Jake Oettinger) to Dallas in exchange for the No. 29 overall pick and a third-rounder (No. 70 overall).

When it was the Blackhawks' turn to pick, Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews were introduced in front of a packed United Center crowd and welcomed their newest teammate by announcing the selection of Finnish defenseman Henri Jokiharju at No. 29 overall.

"It's an amazing feeling, of course," Jokiharju said after getting drafted. "Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane calling my name, it can't be a better feeling."

Jokiharju, who's 18 years old and comes in at 6-foot-1, 187 pounds, scored nine goals and 39 assists in 71 regular-season games for the Portland Winterhawks of the WHL, and also tallied three assists in 11 playoff contests. 

He's known to be a puck-mover and carries a right-handed shot a big reason why the Blackhawks had their eye on him all along — and ended up getting a free third-round pick for it as well.

"Henri is a player we've really been high on all year," Blackhawks GM Stan Bowman said of Jokiharju. "He's a right-handed shot defensemen, those are a commodity in today's game, it's hard to find them. He plays a modern style of hockey. Great skill set, good skater, can handle the puck, make plays. ... He's a big asset. Just looking around the league, it's really hard to find defensemen, particularly right-handed, so we're really thrilled."

Here's Jokiharju's scouting report on himself, which is along the lines of defensemen Adam Larsson, Kris Letang and Sami Vatanen who he models his game after:

"I'm a really good skater," he said. "I play with confidence. I'm a puck-moving D, making good passes, simple passes, whatever helps our other players. I love playing power play and PK too, so I want to be a big part of the team, of course."

But the Blackhawks won't rush him to the professional level. Developing young defensemen takes time, and patience will certainly be preached.

"I try not to put a timeline on it in terms of when he'll be ready," Bowman said. "But he certainly had an impressive season, we like his skill set. He's got that combination of skill, skating, passing, he can defend but he can also get up the ice and join the rush and make things happen with the puck on the blue line. He can move around, play on the power play, so I like that part of his game.

"It's hard to predict when he's going to be ready for the NHL, but we're not going to rush him. We're gonna let him develop at his own rate and I think he's got a bright future."

Jokiharju said he's watched a lot of the Blackhawks, who have won three Stanley Cups led by the two players that called his name. And he wants to be a part of the winning culture.

"I hear stories about Duncan Keith, the passion, how hard he trains and practices, and [Brent] Seabrook of course he's a great leader," Jokiharju said. "Kane and Toews, I'm watching those players a lot and how they lead their team under pressure. I want to be like those two guys."

Blackhawks give thanks to Mike Gapski, who's set to celebrate 2,500th game

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USA Today

Blackhawks give thanks to Mike Gapski, who's set to celebrate 2,500th game

For 33 years, Mike Gapski has been the glue of the Blackhawks' support staff. He's the longest-tenured head athletic trainer in the NHL, landing the job in 1987 shortly after graduating from the University of Illinois-Chicago.

It's been a dream come true for Gapski to work in his hometown all these years, and on Thursday he is set to be involved in his 2,500th regular season game with the Blackhawks.

Current and former players took the time to congratulate and give thanks to Gapski, and share what he's meant to the Blackhawks:

Kirby Dach:

"It's crazy, you have the same guys in junior, but it's a little bit different level here. These guys take care of us, it's unbelievable the job they do. It's a tremendous accomplishment for Gapper. Couldn't be happier for him. I've only known him for a little bit and he's a really nice guy and helps everybody out and is very kind and caring. And that's what you need in a trainer, somebody who's going to have your best interest at heart. It's good for our group and obviously he's been through a lot with some of the older guys in here. I'm sure it'll be a fun celebration for those guys and for our group as well."

Alex DeBrincat:

"He's great. He's always helping. You try to stay out of the training room, but it's always nice to go in there and talk with those guys. Gapper specifically is a great guy to have around, always fun and lighthearted around there. He obviously knows his stuff, he's been in the league a long time, he's seen a lot of injuries. He's pretty quick to help us out and know what we need to get better."

Steve Konroyd:

"Michael Gapski, congratulations on 2,500 games. You're one of the first guys I ever met when I got traded to the Chicago Blackhawks way back in 1988. You're knowledgeable, you're professional and above all else you're a great guy. I was very proud to have you as a trainer and I think the Blackhawks are very lucky to have you over all these years."

Jamal Mayers:

"Just want to say congratulations to Mike Gapski on 2,500 games. Wow. That's a lot of games, Gapper, congratulations. I know all the players that have ever had you are thankful to have you around. You're a professional, you do things the right way, you really care about the players, it comes across every single day. And thanks for keeping me together when I was 37 and 38 at the end of my career."

Eddie Olczyk:

"Hey Frank, congratulations — 2,500 games standing behind the bench for our Chicago Blackhawks. A tremendous honor, congratulations to you and your family. One thing I love about you, Frank, is you're the same guy today as you were back in the late '90s when we were working together when I was still a player. So congratulations and here's to another 2,500 more."

Patrick Sharp:

"Gapper, Gappity, Frank, Mike Gapski, thank you so much for all the years that you've put in to the Chicago Blackhawks training staff. Countless players have come through the organization, nobody's got a bad thing to say about you. 2,500 games, that's no joke. How about we do another 2,500? Congratulations on all your success. I came to Chicago in 2005 as a young man, spent my whole adult life with having you taking care of me at the rink, so thank you for everything over the years. All the best to you and your family, Frank."

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Recently retired Kris Versteeg to be honored before Blackhawks game

Recently retired Kris Versteeg to be honored before Blackhawks game

Kris Versteeg recently retired and now the Blackhawks are honoring him with the team’s “One More Shift.”

Versteeg began the season with the Blackhawks’ AHL affiliate, the Rockford IceHogs, but retired in November after playing six games for the IceHogs this season.

The 33-year-old wrote an emotional letter to the Blackhawks organization after requesting his contract with Rockford be terminated.

Versteeg will be honored before Sunday’s game against the Minnesota Wild. He will join the team on the ice for the national anthem and highlights of his career will be featured in the United Center.

Versteeg won two Stanley Cups with the Blackhawks, in 2010 and 2015. He is part of the Blackhawks celebrating the 10-year anniversary of that 2010 Cup win. Brian Campbell was given the same treatment on Nov. 21.

The first 10,000 fans into the UC can get replicas of the 2010 ring.

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