The Blackhawks had the chance to add a high-level prospect with their first-round pick in the 2017 NHL Draft, and did just that by selecting defenseman Henri Jokiharju. He won’t be NHL-ready for at least a year, but there’s a lot to like about his game. The 18-year-old brings strong skating ability for the position and a high hockey I.Q. that bodes well for his future as a puck-mover. Jokiharju is immediately one of the Hawks’ top prospects, and comes in No. 7 on our Top 25 Under 25 rankings.
Birth date: June 17, 1999
Acquired via: 2017 NHL Draft, first round (No. 29 overall)
Most recent stop: Portland Winterhawks (WHL)
Size: 6’0, 170 pounds
The Blackhawks traded down from No. 26 to No. 29 before drafting Jokiharju, getting a third-round pick from the Stars out of the process. That was a nifty bit of maneuvering by GM Stan Bowman, and the team used the third-rounder to take a shot on Russian forward Andrei Altybarmakyan. That pick feels like a bit of a reach, but it’s a flier and didn’t stop the Hawks from landing a good first-round pick in Jokiharju.
This is the kind of prospect the Hawks haven’t had many chances to acquire lately due to their lack of first-rounders. Jokiharju’s skating ability is impressive, and it follows a theme for the team this offseason. They’re clearly trying to get faster on the back end, and Jokiharju should fit right into that plan soon enough.
Last season as a 17-year-old with the WHL’s Portland Winterhawks, Jokiharju had a good year with nine goals and 39 assists in 71 games. He finished second among defensemen on the team in points behind Caleb Jones, who is two years older than him.
Jokiharju will return to the Winterhawks for the upcoming season, and he should have the opportunity to play a huge role. Jones signed an entry-level deal with the Oilers, which leaves Jokiharju, Keoni Texeira, and Brendan De Jong (a Hurricanes sixth-round pick this year) as Portland’s top three blue liners.
On ESPN’s top 100 NHL prospects for the 2017-18 season, Jokiharju came in No. 59. Corey Pronman called him a “smart, two-way defenseman who can dictate tempo and move the puck efficiently,” but noted he doesn’t have the highest upside given his size and lack of elite-level skill.
Still, Jokiharju projects well in the NHL, and he’s a right-handed defenseman who should fill a need for the Hawks soon. Don’t be surprised if he keeps climbing this list over the next several years.
What’s next in 2017-18?
As noted above, Jokiharju will be heading back to juniors to play for Portland in the WHL. He’s potentially the team’s No. 1 defenseman for the season, which should be a good opportunity for him to continue developing. Ideally, he puts forth a very good season, earns an entry-level contract next spring, and competes for an NHL spot in the fall of 2018. Maybe there’s a year in the AHL in there before he’s ready, but the future is bright for Jokiharju.