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Joni Tuulola leaves Blackhawks organization, signs 1-year contract with Liiga’s KooKoo

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The defenseman scored 22 points (six goals, 16 assists) for the IceHogs in 110 AHL games.

Chicago Blackhawks Headshots Photo by Chase Agnello-Dean/NHLI via Getty Images

Joni Tuulola signed a one-year contract with KooKoo in Liiga, Finland’s top division, on Tuesday.

The 24-year-old defenseman was a restricted free agent after he scored eight points (two goals, six assists) in 56 games for the Rockford IceHogs in his second AHL season. He had 22 points (six goals, 16 assists) in 110 AHL games.

The contract does contain a NHL out clause, but he would have to re-sign with the Blackhawks or IceHogs to return to the organization.

“It’s great to come to Kouvola,” Tuulola said in a release. “When I started looking at options for the upcoming season, KooKoo felt like the best option. I made sure of my choice as soon as I had talked to head coach Jussi Ahokka.”

The Blackhawks selected Tuulola in the sixth round (No. 181 overall) in the 2015 NHL Draft. With his departure, defenseman Dennis Gilbert is the only player from Chicago’s seven-player 2015 draft class still with the organization. Gilbert has one year remaining on his entry-level contract.

The IceHogs appear to be set on defense for the 2020-21 season with returners Nicolas Beaudin, Lucas Carlsson, Chad Krys, Gilbert, Dmitri Osipov (AHL deal) and Jack Ramsey and newcomers Wyatt Kalynuk and Ian Mitchell. Beaudin, Carlsson, Gilbert, Kalynuk and Mitchell could all push for an NHL roster spot.

The Blackhawks have 10 free agent players (seven restricted, three unrestricted) they’ll need to decide whether to re-sign them or not.

RFAs: Forwards Drake Caggiula, Alexandre Fortin, Dominik Kubalik and Dylan Strome; defensemen Slater Koekkoek and Ian McCoshen; and goaltender Malcolm Subban

UFAs: Forward Joseph Cramarossa, defensemen T.J. Brennan and goaltender Corey Crawford