NHL mock draft 2017: Chicago Blackhawks select Henri Jokiharju

That sweet, sweet skating will look nice on Chicago’s blue line in a couple years.

There were no surefire prospects available with the Blackhawks’ pick in this year’s SB Nation NHL mock draft, but it was still a chance to add a fantastic talent to the system. With the No. 26 overall selection, we nabbed sweet-skating defenseman Henri Jokijarhu from the WHL’s Portland Winterhawks.

Jokiharju immediately gives the Blackhawks something their system lacks: a young defenseman who could be an impact player in the near future. Other than Gustav Forsling, Chicago’s system is full of question marks when it comes to the blue line. Jokiharju immediately becomes a top-three prospect in the system, and could be the No. 1 prospect within a year.

Here’s more on the defenseman, and why we decided to draft him.

The basics

Name: Henri Jokiharju
Position: Defenseman
Age: 18
Nation: Finland
Height: 6’0
Weight: 170 pounds

2016-17 performance

It took some time for Jokiharju to adjust to North American hockey in his first season with WHL’s Portland Winterhawks, but he still finished the campaign with 48 points in 71 games.

Jokiharju can be an effective puck mover, and he was second among Winterhawks defensemen in points as a rookie. The only player ahead of him, Caleb Jones (the brother of Blue Jackets star Seth Jones), is roughly two years older. That hints to Jokiharju’s upside.

It’s also impressive how Jokiharju progressed through the regular season. He recorded just 10 points in his first 23 games, but proceeded to rack up 38 points over the final 48 games. He slowed in the WHL playoffs with just three points in 11 games, but was making adjustments throughout his age 17 season.

That’s what you want to see from a 17-year-old transitioning to a different style of hockey, and Jokiharju seems custom-built to succeed in the modern NHL. He may not be a future No. 1, but he’s a potential No. 2/3 who can rack up points, and that’s a good return late in the first round.

Third party rankings

Jokiharju is largely well-regarded by outside sources ranking the top prospects in the 2017 NHL draft class, but it’s not a consensus. As a result of an up-and-down season, there’s still some skepticism about his game in certain corners.

Corey Pronman: No. 21
Bob McKenzie: Not Ranked
NHL Central Scouting: No. 19 (among NA skaters)
Ryan Kennedy: No. 58
HockeyProspect: No. 29
Craig Button: No. 34

So most of these rankings would actually say we reached a little bit to get Jokiharju. Pronman, on the other hand, has a much more positive view of his game.

“I don't think his skill is top-end level, but he's going to be able to rack up a lot of points thanks to his vision, feet and decision-making,” Pronman wrote in his top 100 rankings. “Despite not being a big guy, Jokiharju is quite effective defensively because he's very smart with his positional play.”

The draft decision process

In filling the role of Blackhawks GM Stan Bowman and Blackhawks director of scouting Mark Kelley, I had been holding out hope that at least one consensus top-20 prospect would tumble to No. 26 for us. But in unsurprising fashion given most of us writers are presumably looking at similar prospect rankings from various sources, there were no massive surprises like those we occasionally see on the real draft day.

So I was mainly looking at a cast of four players by the time the clock came up for the Hawks at the No. 26 pick: Jokiharju, center Robert Thomas, winger Jason Robertson, and center Aleksi Heponiemi.

Each one is a very different kind of player. Jokiharju, as briefly stated before, is a mobile, smart defenseman with lots of upside. Thomas is a two-way center who put up good numbers despite being a second-liner in the OHL. Robertson is a potential goal machine with bricks for feet. Heponiemi is a nimble Finnish playmaker (remind you of anyone?) who has question marks about his size and defense.

Ultimately I opted to go with Jokiharju for a few reasons. One is that the Blackhawks desperately need defensemen for the future, and Jokiharju could have the combination of mobility, passing skill, and hockey I.Q. to be a good fit for their system. Pronman rated Jokiharju as the eighth-best skater in the entire draft class. We’ve seen how mobility is becoming a premium skill for NHL defensemen, and he stands out there.

Jokiharju is also a right-handed shot, which the Hawks could use in the near future. Forsling is a lefty, and the Blackhawks often use Niklas Hjalmarsson on his offside because of their lack of balance in terms of handedness. Jokiharju could potentially fill a top-four RHD role by 2019 or 2020.

Another is that there was no clear best player available. All of the options above were being ranked in the 20-60 range depending on who you were asking. So with those guys generally inhibiting a similar tier of prospect, I decided to go with the one who felt like the best fit. It was a close call between Jokiharju and Thomas, who could be a perfect complement to Jonathan Toews as another two-way center, but the Hawks need to sustain their defensive depth for the future.