Henri Jokiharju leads impressive 2018 World Juniors showing for Blackhawks prospects

This was an encouraging couple weeks to follow Hawks prospects.

The 2018 World Junior Championships wrapped up in Buffalo with Canada topping Sweden in the gold medal game Friday night. The U.S. won bronze to earn a medal for the third consecutive year, the country’s best run in tournament history.

But around these parts, we’re focusing on the Blackhawks, and that means gushing over how good Henri Jokiharju looked in this tournament. Okay, it’s really about checking out how all five Hawks prospects did ... but we’re gonna start by gushing over Joker.

Here’s a quick look at how each player performed at the World Juniors.

Henri Jokiharju, Finland

Wooooooo boy do the Blackhawks actually have an elite defenseman prospect?!?! Is it possible?!!? The last time the Blackhawks had a blue line prospect as good as Jokiharju in their system was before I had even started covering the team.

Jokiharju teamed up with Olli Juolevi on Finland’s second pairing for most of the tournament, and he looked like a stud. The defenseman finished tied for second on the team with four points in five games. Even if he doesn’t have full-blown No. 1 defenseman potential at the NHL level, it’s possible the Hawks have their next top-pairing defenseman here.

Andrei Altybarmakyan, Russia

Altybarmakyan was a bit of mystery when the Blackhawks surprisingly took him in the third round of the 2017 NHL Draft, but he impressed in Buffalo with strong skating and a high energy level. There doesn’t appear to be the high-level skill necessarily to have star potential, but you can squint and envision him being a speedy third-line winger who plays in all situations. He finished the tournament with one goal and two assists in six games.

Artur Kayumov, Russia

Kayumov was one of Russia’s best players in this tournament, which is encouraging given his underwhelming play in the KHL to date. The 2016 second-round pick is a very good skater, which isn’t surprising given he’s not very big, and The Athletic’s Corey Pronman said these past couple weeks put the winger “back on my radar as a real NHL prospect.” That’s not exactly a strong endorsement of his play outside World Juniors, but the fact that he can excel against such strong competition is encouraging.

Tim Soderlund, Sweden

Soderlund is already looking like a potential fourth-round steal by the Blackhawks. He was exceptional for the silver medal-winning Swedish team in this tournament with five points in seven games, including the team’s only goal in a 3-1 gold medal game loss to Canada.

The hype is growing, even outside Chicago:

Jakub Galvas, Czech Republic

Galvas, a 2017 fifth-round pick by the Blackhawks, was the one Blackhawks prospect at World Juniors who didn’t do much to boost his stock. The defenseman was pretty quiet with just two assists and six shots on goal over seven games with the Czech Republic. He’s still just 18 years old, though, so he’ll be eligible to return to the tournament next season.

All in all, a very good showing by the Blackhawks’ prospects in Buffalo. Stan Bowman and company have to be encouraged by what they saw over the past couple weeks.