Henri Jokiharju

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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How all 13 Blackhawks performed at 2019 IIHF World Championship

How all 13 Blackhawks performed at 2019 IIHF World Championship

The Blackhawks had 13 players represent the organization at the 2019 IIHF World Championship in Slovakia. Here's how each of them performed, sorted by country:

Canada (Final ranking: Silver medal)

— Dylan Strome ... In his first career IIHF World Championship, Strome had five points (one goal, four assists) in 10 games. He also had a plus-1 rating, 12 shots on goal and averaged 11:59 of ice time. Strome ranked fifth among all centers with a faceoff win percentage of 63.3.

Czech Republic (Final ranking: 4th)

— Dominik Kubalik ... Kubalik, whose rights were acquired by the Blackhawks from Los Angeles in January, finished eighth among all skaters in scoring with 12 points (six goals, six assists) in 10 games and his plus-10 rating was tied for fourth overall. He also recorded 28 shots on goal and averaged 13:55 of ice time.

Denmark (Final ranking: 11th)

— Mathias From ... From, who was drafted in the fifth round (No. 143rd overall) in 2016, was pointless in four games. He was a minus-1 rating, had one shot on goal and averaged 5:02 of ice time.

Finland (Final ranking: Gold medal)

— Henri Jokiharju ... Jokiharju compiled three points — all assists — in 10 games. He also had a plus-1 rating, 13 shots on goal and averaged 11:44 of ice time. He and Kaapo Kakko became the seventh and eighth players in IIHF history to win gold at the Under-18s, World Junior and World Championship in their career. They also became the first players since Jonathan Toews (2007) to win the World Junior and World Championship in the same year.

— Kevin Lankinen ... Lankinen was the breakout star of the tournament. The 24-year-old ranked first in goals against average (1.50), second in save percentage (.942) and tied for first in shutouts (2). He was named player of the game in the semifinal contest against Russia with a 32-save shutout then stopped 43 of 44 shots for a save percentage of .978 in the gold medal game against Canada.

Germany (Final ranking: 6th)

— Dominik Kahun ... Kahun was one of Germany's most productive players. He racked up five points (one goal, four assists), ranked second on the team in shots on goal (16) and averaged 19:18 of ice time. He finished with a minus-1 rating in eight games.

Norway (Final ranking: 12th)

— Andreas Martinsen ... Martinsen, who's set to become an unrestricted free agent on July 1, was tied for the scoring lead on Norway with six points — all assists — in seven games. He had a minus-1 rating, 11 shots on goal and averaged 15:28 of ice time. Coaches voted him one of the three best players on Norway at the end of the tournament.

Russia (Final ranking: Bronze medal)

— Artem Anisimov ... Anisimov recorded six points (four goals, two assists) in 10 games, and tallied one game-winning goal. He also registered 14 shots on goal and averaged 14:25 of ice time. His plus-11 rating was tied for third among all skaters.

Sweden (Final ranking: 5th)

— Erik Gustafsson ... He had four points (two goals, two assists) and a plus-5 rating in eight games. His 25 shots on goal ranked first on Team Sweden and 18:29 average time on ice ranked sixth.

— Marcus Kruger ... Kruger, who's set to become an unrestricted free agent on July 1, scored two goals — one of which was a game-winner — and added an assist in eight games. He was one of four players on the team that had a negative rating (minus-3). Kruger averaged 10:37 of ice time and ranked 15th among center with a faceoff win percentage of 59.2.

Switzerland (Final ranking: 8th)

— Philipp Kurashev ... Kurashev, who was taken in the fourth round (No. 120 overall) in 2018, accumulated four points (one goal, three assists) in eight games. His plus-4 rating also ranked tied for third on the team. Kurashev registered eight shots on goal and averaged 11:02 of ice time.

United States (Final ranking: 7th)

— Alex DeBrincat ... DeBrincat picked up right where he left off with the Blackhawks. He finished second among all skaters in goals (7) despite playing in eight games, and compiled nine points. Two of his goals were game-winners and three of them came on the power play. His shooting percentage was 43.8.

DeBrincat now has 18 points (eight goals, 10 assists) in 18 career tournament games. 

— Patrick Kane ... After being named tournament MVP in 2018, Kane also didn't skip a beat. He averaged 1.50 points per game with two goals and 10 assists in eight contests, and led his country in shots on goal (28) and forwards in ice time (22:26 per game).

The three-time Stanley Cup champion surpassed U.S. Hockey Hall of Famer Mark Johnson for most points (33) in World Championship history. Kane pulled away even further by the end of the tournament, totaling 42 points in 25 career IIHF World Championship games.

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Hawks Talk Podcast: Evaluating Blackhawks defensemen prospects with Mark Eaton

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AP

Hawks Talk Podcast: Evaluating Blackhawks defensemen prospects with Mark Eaton

On the latest edition of the Hawks Talk Podcast, Blackhawks director of player development Mark Eaton joins the show to evaluate the organization’s top defensemen prospects and where each of them is at in their developments. Which ones could make the NHL jump next season?

Pat Boyle and Charlie Roumeliotis offer their takeaways from the Eaton interview and outlook the Blackhawks blue line group as a whole.

1:00 – Eaton on Henri Jokiharju’s development

3:30 – Adam Boqvist’s growth in North America

6:50 – Evaluating Nicolas Beaudin’s progression

8:15 – Surprised about Ian Mitchell’s decision to return to college?

10:55 – Assessing Chad Krys in college and AHL

13:10 – Challenge between stressing defensive side of game but not taking away from who the player is

15:55 – Which defensemen prospects could be in NHL next season?

18:25 – The message Erik Gustafsson’s breakout season sends to prospects

21:15 – Takeaways from Eaton interview

31:25 – Reviewing Blackhawks defensemen contracts

33:35 – Thoughts on Gustav Forsling

35:20 – The challenge for Blackhawks defense this offseason

Listen to the entire podcast here or in the embedded player below.

Blackhawks Talk Podcast

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