Blackhawks prospect Henri Jokiharju eyes spot on opening night roster

The 19-year-old defenseman says it’s his “biggest goal right now.”

If Chicago Blackhawks top defenseman prospect Henri Jokiharju has it his way he’ll on team’s roster on opening night. Jokiharju called it his “biggest goal right now,” in an interview with Eric Lear of Blackhawks TV.

Jokiharju, who turned 19 on Sunday, signed a three-year, entry-level contract with the Hawks on June 12. The contract carries a $925,000 cap hit and $425,000 in potential performance bonuses during the 2019-20 season and $637,500 in 2020-21. The 2017 first-round pick could also have his contract slide next season. If he plays less than 10 NHL games during the 2018-19 campaign, his contract would slide a season and begin in the 2019-20 season.

Jokiharju posted career-highs in points (71), goals (12) and assists (59) in 63 games during his second season with the Portland Winterhawks in the Western Hockey League. Last season, Jokiharju registered 20 multi-point games, including a nine-game point streak in November. In two seasons with the Winterhawks, he has posted 21 goals and 98 assists.

Ideally, Jokiharju will impress enough during the Blackhawks’ training camp and earn a spot on the roster like he wants. The Hawks have three right-handed shots under contract for next season that have NHL experience: Brent Seabrook ($6.875M), Connor Murphy ($3.85M) and Jan Rutta ($2.3M).

But what if Jokiharju doesn’t make the opening night roster? Where will he play next season?

Prior to his first season with Portland, Jokiharju signed a three-year deal with Tappara in Liiga, Finland’s top division, his agent, Markus Lehto, told Scott Powers of The Athletic. Under the CHL-NHL transfer agreement, a player drafted by a CHL team cannot play in the NHL if he isn’t 20 by December 31 of the current season. If Jokiharju isn’t on the Blackhawks, he must return to Portland but because Tapparra loaned him to the Winterhawks he shouldn’t be impacted by the transfer agreement.

Jokiharju could also return to Finland and play for Tappara, but that’s unlikely seeing that he sought out playing in North America as a better option for his development, and he was clearly right.