A little more than a month ago, the Blackhawks were in the basement of the entire NHL. And Henri Jokiharju's minutes were dwindling.
At the time, it probably made sense to send him to Rockford, where he could regroup mentally and play in all situations on the top pairing. But things have changed rather dramatically now that the Blackhawks are in the middle of a legit playoff race.
On Friday, Jokiharju was recalled on an emergency basis because Brent Seabrook (abdominal strain) was out and Carl Dahlstrom (flu-like symptoms) was a game-time decision. Jokiharju played, and logged a season-low 9:14 of ice time. He took just three shifts in the third period.
The reports after Friday's morning skate were that Jokiharju's stint wouldn't necessarily be temporary. But it was, with the Blackhawks sending him back to Rockford on Saturday morning.
"I just think the other guys played pretty well," coach Jeremy Colliton said. "When I look at Henri's game, we're happy. I see a growth from when he left us to go to Rockford to now. Circumstances required us to bring him for the game, just with Seabs and Dahlstrom. Dahlstrom probably could've played in the end, but we didn't know that in the morning. So we wanted to get Henri since we called him up, but we feel that he's where he should be in Rockford and we're happy with his progression and how he's handling it. He's playing 21, 22 minutes every night and we're seeing a growth in his game, so that's a positive."
There are two sides to this development: The Blackhawks obviously want Jokiharju to be playing heavy minutes and developing as an elite defenseman. But they also want him playing in meaningful games.
The easy thing to wonder is, why can't he do that in Chicago rather than Rockford? Isn't he one of the team's better defensemen? Well, yes. But the Blackhawks don't want to run him into the ground at age 19. Young guys tend to struggle with the grind of an 82-game season because it takes a toll physically and mentally to do that against grown men in the NHL.
In the AHL, it's less taxing and, quite frankly, there's not as much pressure because he's not in the spotlight every night. There's value in developing at your own pace and doing it out of the spotlight, and the Blackhawks are looking at it from that lens.
"He's been great," Colliton said of Jokiharju's attitude. "We've had really good feedback, talked to [IceHogs interim coach Derek King] and [assistant coach] Anders [Sorensen] obviously, how he's been down there. He's been a pro. I think that's been good for him too. Initially when we sent him down he wasn't very happy. But when he got there, it was like, 'Oh OK, maybe this is a good thing.' And that was the reaction last night too.
"Yeah, he wants to be in the NHL, he wants to be a great player, an elite player and that's what we want too. But he's where he should be right now."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.