Rookie defenseman Jokiharju still going strong for Blackhawks

Chicago Blackhawks defenseman Henri Jokiharju (28) looks to pass the puck against the Columbus Blue Jackets during the first period of an NHL hockey preseason game Saturday, Sept. 29, 2018, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Kamil Krzaczynski)

by Scott King

It’s been 10 games and after a strong start to the season, we’re no longer talking about Blackhawks rookie Henri Jokiharju. The defenseman got lost in the shuffle of Corey Crawford, Brandon Saad and the usual Patrick Kane story lines.

We might not also be talking about him because you often don’t notice NHL defensemen when they don’t make mistakes.

Jokiharju has six assists and a +/- rating of +5 in his first 10 NHL games.

In that sample size, to see a rookie show no signs of panic or inexperience and complement one of the league’s most distinguished defenseman extremely well, that’s something.

“I’ve been excited to play with him,” Duncan Keith, Jokiharju’s defensive partner thus far said. “He keeps getting better and more comfortable. It’s been good playing with him. I think he helps my game out. He allows me to do what I need to do and he’s good at getting back for pucks, good at making a quick break up the ice.”

For Henri, it’s been easy to play and get along with Keith. “It’s going pretty good,” Jokiharju said. “Game after game [we] try to get better, try to talk… Right away when we met up and paired up I felt very comfortable with him.”

The 19-year-old Finnish defenseman had five assists in his first three games with the Hawks. On October 7, he became the youngest Chicago defenseman to record three assists in a game in a 7-6 overtime loss to the Maple Leafs.

“The way he goes back for pucks, he’s able to escape guys and be able to turn the puck up-ice,” Patrick Kane said. “His skating is one of those things, it’s kind of really underrated. You didn’t know too much about him until you watch him on the ice.”

It’s not just Jokiharju’s defense that’s impressed Kane.

“He’s producing offensively too,” Kane said. “Great start for him. And he seems like he wants to do well too, so that’s always important.”

Being selected recently by the Blackhawks in the first round of the 2017 NHL Draft at number 29 overall, Jokiharju wasn’t a sure thing on this year’s opening night roster. Fast forward to now, Blackhawks head coach Joel Quenneville can’t seem to give him enough ice time.

He played 20:24 in Thursday’s 4-1 win against the visiting New York Rangers.

“It’s always discussed that being aware of that situation is certainly something that we’ll be gaging and monitoring,” Quenneville said. “And he just seems to handle it like it’s another game. He’s played in those situations in the past, and it’s like, okay, to him the NHL, he keeps playing, doing his thing.

“Give him credit that he doesn’t change his approach or demeanor and I know it’s a long season and we want to make sure that we try to keep some consistency to his game if he can handle a little bit more.

“He’s deserving of it, the way he’s playing and we’ll keep monitoring it, but right now we’ll keep giving him a little bit more because he’s handling it so well.”

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