Henri Jokiharju – Chicago Blackhawks (NHL)
There’s no question Henri Jokiharju has what it takes to be a top NHL defenseman. The 29th overall pick in the 2017 draft has already played 35 games with the Chicago Blackhawks this year, racking up 12 assists as a rookie. At just 19 years old, he has been the best and most reliable defenseman on a team whose best D-man is always Duncan Keith.
While he’s made some obvious rookie mistakes, Jokiharju has impressed everyone. He leads the team in 5-on-5 Corsi-for percentage and Fenwick-for percentage. He has the sixth-most ice time among Blackhawks skaters and averages 19:34 minutes per game. On a pairing with Keith, their Corsi-for percentage is 53.61. According to Sean Tierney, there is not a pairing Jokiharju has been on this season that has negatively impacted the Blackhawks.
Prior to this season, The Athletic’s Corey Pronman had Jokiharju ranked 86th as a “legit NHL prospect” in his Top 100 Prospects article. Obviously, everyone has a right to their own opinion and I agreed with Pronman’s ranking of him at the time. But now, I’d argue Jokiharju as a “very good prospect,” which he defined as “projects as a top-six forward/top-four defenseman/starting goaltender.”
Pronman noted Jokiharju is solid defensively, but “he needs to get stronger and more confident checking good players before he reaches the NHL.” I think we’ve seen a decent amount of evidence that contradicts this statement with his play this season. Jokiharju is strong in one-on-one puck battles, especially along the boards. His ability to knock opposing players off the puck and efficiently exit the zone is one of the attributes about his play that has stood out to me above anything else.
Now Jokiharju is coming off a gold-medal win with Finland at the 2019 World Junior Championship. He ended the tournament with two goals and three assists in seven games and tied for third in scoring amongst defensemen. He shined for his home country in Vancouver and hopefully gained some confidence that he can transfer to the NHL level.