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Chicago Blackhawks: Can Henri Jokiharju make the jump to the NHL?

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EVERETT, WA - APRIL 13: Defenseman Henri Jokiharju (16) of the Portland Winterhawks skates the puck out of the defensive zone during the first period in Game 5 of the second round of the Western Hockey League playoffs between the Everett Silvertips and Portland Winterhawks on Friday, April 13, 2018 at Angel of the Winds Arena in Everett, WA. The Everett Silvertips won the game by a final score of 4-0. (Photo by Christopher Mast/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
EVERETT, WA - APRIL 13: Defenseman Henri Jokiharju (16) of the Portland Winterhawks skates the puck out of the defensive zone during the first period in Game 5 of the second round of the Western Hockey League playoffs between the Everett Silvertips and Portland Winterhawks on Friday, April 13, 2018 at Angel of the Winds Arena in Everett, WA. The Everett Silvertips won the game by a final score of 4-0. (Photo by Christopher Mast/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images) /
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Chicago Blackhawks 2017 first-round pick Henri Jokiharju signed a three-year entry level deal earlier this summer and has the potential to break into the NHL this season.

It’s been apparent for quite some time now that the Chicago Blackhawks have issues to address defensively. They downgraded significantly after exchanging Niklas Hjalmarsson for a cheaper, younger Connor Murphy a season ago. Additionally, while Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook used to be the only guys holding things together, even that isn’t working anymore.

The hope was that because the Blackhawks had more cap room than years prior this offseason, the defensive issue would finally be addressed. Justin Faulk was rumored to be coming over in a trade. Calvin de Haan was thought of as a possibility as well.

However, Calvin de Haan inked a deal with the Carolina Hurricanes. Furthermore, the Canes are rumored to be asking for Brandon Saad in exchange for Faulk — a price too high for Stan Bowman — which puts the Hawks in a pit of a pinch.

So far, all the Blackhawks have managed to come up with was a third pairing defenseman in Brandon Manning.

It appears that Henri Jokiharju may be the Blackhawks only hope in improving defense.

Jokiharju in the WHL

Jokiharju has spent just two seasons in the WHL with the Portland Winterhawks from 2016-2018. In the 2016-17 campaign, Henri played in 71 games and tallied 49 points on 39 assists and 9 goals. Not too shabby for a defenseman.

He’s been well known as an offensive defenseman who can move the puck and skate exceptionally well. Both of these talents are perfect fits for the Hawks who badly need help getting the puck out of their own zone and through the neutral zone.

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  • These skills started to come through more and more as Jokiharju really came into his own last year in his second season with the Winterhawks. His offensive ability was on full display. He put up a 71 points in just 63 games. Making up those 71 points were 12 goals and a total of 59 assists. Jokiharju ended the year an impressive +47 in the +/- category.

    Obviously, the guy has incredible abilities on the offensive side of the puck. The knock on him is that he has a sizable amount of room to improve his game defensively. Even so, 71 points in 63 games is enough to beg the question, can his talent translate to the NHL?

    Jokiharju in the NHL

    Henri Jokiharju needs to look only to last season to find an example of someone jumping straight from a junior or college level to the NHL. The Chicago Blackhawks’ own Alex Debrincat made the team straight from the OHL’s Erie Otters. In his final season there, Debrincat lit up the league for 127 points in 63 games. He scored 65 goals and added 62 assists. His goal scoring and playmaking ability translated to the NHL smoothly as he led the Blackhawks in goals with 28.

    While that’s absolutely reason to be optimistic about Jokiharju breaking into the league, it is significantly easier to make that transition as a forward. Playing defense in the NHL is another story.

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    However, Charlie McAvoy did it last year. He spent two seasons in the NCAA with Boston University. McAvoy played well enough in college to be drafted 14th overall by the Boston Bruins in 2016. He had 25 and 26 points in 37 and 38 games while in college.

    It wasn’t until McAvoy came into the NHL, though, that he played his best season of hockey yet. In his first NHL season Charlie was a +25 in +/- over 63 games. He tallied 32 points on 7 goals and 25 assists. Furthermore, though, McAvoy was a rock solid defenseman and averaged 22:09 TOI.

    Jokiharju doesn’t quite have the same defensive ability which helped McAvoy ease into the NHL so easily. He does, however, have an insane offensive ability which McAvoy lacked.

    Next: Former Chicago Blackhawk Anthony Duclair signs with Blue Jackets

    Whether or not Jokiharju can make it in the NHL this season remains to be seen. His offensive ability would be huge on a blue line which lacked the ability to contribute last season. He’s the best offensive defenseman prospect since Nick Leddy. Unfortunately, Leddy got rushed into his role in the NHL and couldn’t quite keep his head afloat. As a result, he got traded. The hope is that the same thing won’t happen to Jokiharju. However, with the lack of action in free agency this year, the Blackhawks need him now more than ever.

    If you want my opinion, whether he’s ready or not, you’ll see Jokiharju on the ice opening night.

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