Blackhawks: Re-visiting the Nylander-Jokiharju Trade

By Tony Gianares
CHICAGO, IL - NOVEMBER 19: Chicago Blackhawks right wing Alexander Nylander (92) warms up prior to an NHL hockey game between the Carolina Hurricanes and the Chicago Blackhawks on November 19, 2019, at the United Center in Chicago, IL. (Photo By Daniel Bartel/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
CHICAGO, IL - NOVEMBER 19: Chicago Blackhawks right wing Alexander Nylander (92) warms up prior to an NHL hockey game between the Carolina Hurricanes and the Chicago Blackhawks on November 19, 2019, at the United Center in Chicago, IL. (Photo By Daniel Bartel/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images) /
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Did the Henri Jokiharju for Alexander Nylander trade help or hurt the Chicago Blackhawks?

Now that both the Chicago Blackhawks and Buffalo Sabres have played 30+ games each this season, I think now would be a good time to re-visit and evaluate the controversial Henri Jokiharju-Alexander Nylander trade that happened back on July 9th, 2019.

Back then, the Blackhawks thought having Jokiharju around was a luxury. I’m not exactly sure why they thought he was expendable, especially when you consider the state of the defense at that time.

I don’t think Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook, Erik Gustafsson, Connor Murphy, Henri Jokiharju, Carl Dahlstrom, and Slater Koekkoek sound like much of an NHL caliber defensive unit. Regardless of what I and many Chicago Blackhawks’ fans thought, Stan Bowman felt differently.

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When you look at the Blackhawks’ recent trades, trading for a struggling former 1st round pick has sort of become Bowman’s M.O. His recent acquisitions include Dylan Strome, Brendan Perlini, Slater Koekkoek, Olli Maatta, and now, Alexander Nylander.

Alexander Nylander

While Nylander was a standout prospect and has dormant potential, he hasn’t done much since becoming a professional hockey player back in 2016-17. The Sabres’ former 8th overall pick has accumulated an underwhelming 86 points (30G, 56A) in 165 games at the AHL level and now has 17 points (7G, 10A) in 50 games at the NHL level.

This production results in a .52 PPG rate in the AHL and a .34 PPG rate in the NHL. Not exactly the type of numbers you’d expect from a former top-10 draft pick, who also had a solid junior hockey career.

Stan Bowman was hoping to get a Strome-like career resurgence out of Nylander, but it doesn’t look like Stan will strike gold twice in the past two seasons. Here is a closer look at Nylander’s career stats, including the 2019-20 season.

This season, Nylander hasn’t taken advantage of the numerous opportunities he has been given with the Chicago Blackhawks. Jeremy Colliton has slotted him in as the LW on the 1st line more often than not.

According to Dobber’s Frozen Tools, Nylander has lined up alongside Jonathan Toews and Brandon Saad 58.8% of the time in 2019-20 and only has 3 points to show for it. Nylander has also been given power-play time on both the PP1 and PP2 units where he has tallied just 2 points (2A).

Henri Jokiharju

Henri Jokiharju certainly had an interesting rookie season. From the start, former Chicago Blackhawks’ head coach, Joel Quenneville, liked what he saw in Jokiharju. Through the first 15 games under Quenneville, Jokiharju played no less than 18:22 TOI per game and slotted in on the 1st defensive pairing alongside Duncan Keith.

During that time, he also racked up 8 points (8A) with a 1 ± rating in 15 games, which is good for a 19-year-old rookie defenseman. The upside was apparent with Henri Jokiharju. The Blackhawks had a defenseman with top-4 upside, which is what they desperately needed for the past couple of seasons and still need now. The best part is that he was homegrown talent too.

From here on out, things began to unravel for Henri Jokiharju. He was allowed to play for Team Finland in the 2018 World Junior Championship, where he was named an alternate captain and led Finland to a gold medal.

In the tournament, Jokiharju racked up an impressive 5 points (2G, 3A) with a 6 ± rating in 7 games. He returned to play an additional 6 games with the Blackhawks before being assigned to the Rockford IceHogs.

Henri Jokiharju has had a strong 2019-20 campaign with the Buffalo Sabres while playing in a steady top-6 role alongside Marco Scandella. Jokiharju has 10 points (3G, 7A) with a 5 ± rating in 33 games. Jokiharju has also gotten some ice time on the power play where he recorded one goal.

Is There a Clear-Cut Winner In This Trade?

It might be a little early to know for sure, but as of now, I’d have to say the Buffalo Sabres are winning the Alexander Nylander-Henri Jokiharju trade. The Chicago Blackhawks’ defense has been decimated by injuries and disappointing as a whole.

I would prefer to have another defenseman with top-4 upside, in Jokiharju, over another top-9 forward, in Alexander Nylander. The Blackhawks defense likely won’t improve until next season when other defensive prospects such as Ian Mitchell, Nicolas Beaudin, Alec Regula, Alex Vlasic and more have another year under their belts and try to crack the NHL roster.

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