After losing a pair of its defenseman last week to a trade (Niklas Hjalmarsson) and the expansion draft (Trevor van Riemsdyk), the Chicago Blackhawks continued restocking the blue line by bringing back defenseman Ville Pokka on a one-year deal, the team announced Tuesday.
Chris Hine of the Chicago Tribune first reported the news.
The Athletic’s Scott Powers reported last week that the Hawks had started talking to Pokka on a new contract after his entry-level deal expired following the 2016-17 season.
The upcoming training camp could be the most important time of Pokka’s career, after he spent the last two seasons playing in the AHL for the Rockford Ice Hogs. He had 45 points in 76 games during the 2015-16 season and followed that up with six goals and 24 assists in the 2016-17 season.
But Rockford is not where the Hawks ultimately envisioned Pokka playing when they acquired him in 2014 as part of the Nick Leddy trade. Michal Kempny, Gustav Forsling and Erik Gustaffson have all been signed by the Hawks in the last two seasons and have found their way to the NHL at some point, while Pokka remains searching for his NHL debut.
A 2012 second-round pick of the New York Islanders, Pokka may not get an opportunity better than this one to make the Hawks roster. Injuries affected him prior to training camp last year, but no reports have surfaced yet of any issues that would get in the way of Pokka’s offseason training. The only locks to be on the NHL roster for the Hawks come October are Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook. I’d wager that Connor Murphy is pretty close to a certainty as well.
But there’s plenty of ice time behind those three to be earned. And if Pokka doesn’t make an impression this year, it may be his last chance to do so with this team.