Today the Chicago Blackhawks assigned defensemen Henri Jokiharju to the Rockford IceHogs. It’s a justifiable move, but is it a problem?
The move is justifiable for a number of reasons, yet something about it rubs me (and almost everyone in the Blackhawks community) the wrong way.
Why Jokiharju to the AHL makes sense
"“It’s both surprising but also not, considering his ice time has dipped for the last month and a half. He averaged exactly 20:00 minutes of ice time per game in his first 32 games, and was the team leader in 5-on-5 ice time before he left for the 2019 World Juniors.In his most recent content before the All-Star break, Jokiharju logged only 12:55 in a 3-2 shootout win over the New York Islanders. It was the second time in four games he had logged fewer than 13 minutes, and in between that stretch he was a healthy scratch.”"
Considering his consistent decrease in ice time, it makes sense that the Blackhawks would want to send him to the AHL. Jokiharju should be playing top-four minutes every single night and if that won’t happen in the NHL for the time being then this move certainly makes sense.
Additionally, the Chicago Blackhawks have a very crowded blue line right now even after Jokiharju’s demotion created a roster spot for Gustav Forsling – activated off of injury reserve today.
The Blackhawks will be sellers at the deadline and giving their expendable defensemen — i.e. those not named Henri Jokiharju — more ice time certainly helps to show them off.
That’s all perfectly logical and fine, but is there a deeper problem?
The flip side
Outside of Connor Murphy, Jokiharju might’ve been the most consistent Blackhawks defensemen this season, especially since returning from World Juniors. He’s had his share of bad games, but he still deserves top-4 minutes. That said, as Roumeliotis pointed out, Jokiharju’s ice time has been consistently decreasing as of late.
As a result, all of this leaves you searching for answers. Here’s Jeremy Colliton’s:
"“I think as a 19-year-old, we’re pleased with his progression,” said Colliton. “It’s not going to happen overnight where he becomes a dominant player at this level. There’s going to be ups and downs, and that’s part of the journey as a young player. You got to go through some adversity, and it’s not going to be perfect and that’s fine. It’s up to us to give us to give him the feedback he needs to continue to improve and up to him to work as hard as he can.”"
Colliton is right and, to be fair, a trip down to the AHL could boost Jokiharju’s game to another level. He struggles a bit physically and this trip does have a chance at positively impact him.
If the Chicago Blackhawks move a defensemen and Jokiharju returns to the NHL following that decision, I’ll be happy. What I’m worried about, though, is if this turns into an extended stay.
In the last decade the Chicago Blackhawks have developed exactly zero NHL defensemen. Sure, Nick Leddy and Michal Kempny both have successful NHL jobs right now, however neither of them do because of or with the Blackhawks.
The future of this team relies on their ability to develop their young defensemen in the system and there already seems to be some hiccups in this process. Learning curves and speed bumps are part of it, however that doesn’t mean decisions won’t be questioned. The Blackhawks can’t afford to make mistakes.
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This move is probably simply an effort to free up some space in an effort to execute a trade, but Blackhawks fans should keep a close eye on the situation as it unfolds.
Hopefully, the organization gets this one right.