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Some Thoughts on the Jokiharju Trade

Only time will tell if this move benefits or hurts the Blackhawks, but we will certainly have it under a magnifying glass the whole way through.

Yesterday afternoon, the Blackhawks made an extremely head-scratching move by trading defenseman Henri Jokiharju to the Buffalo Sabres in exchange for left-winger Alexander Nylander.

The Hawks got blasted in the replies to the tweet above as well as the comment section on their Instagram page, and rightfully so in my opinion. I’ve had a number of thoughts swirling around in my head ever since the news broke, so I need to air them out in list form here.

Why the Hawks Made this Move

  • The blue line is crowded. Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook are immovable due to their contracts. Calvin de Haan and Olli Maatta were acquired via trade and are both under contract for three more seasons. Connor Murphy is still in the mix and locked up for three more years as well. Carl Dahlstrom has two years remaining on his deal. Erik Gustafsson and Slater Koekkoek are under contract through this season. Someone was going to be the odd man out, and the Blackhawks apparently thought that was going to be Henri Jokiharju.
  • The coaching staff and front office may have seen something in his development they didn’t like. Last season, Jokiharju averaged 21:34 TOI in 15 games coached by Joel Quenneville. Under Jeremy Colliton, Jokiharju played an average of 17:18 over 23 games before being banished to Rockford for good. It’s entirely possible that Colliton doesn’t like Jokiharju’s game nearly as much as Quenneville did.
  • Stan Bowman had success providing an underperforming former top-10 draft pick with a change of scenery in Dylan Strome last season. Perhaps he feels he can do the same with Nylander, who was selected eighth overall by Buffalo in 2016.
  • On paper, defensive prospects Adam Boqvist and Ian Mitchell have higher ceilings than Jokiharju. Perhaps the front office thinks Boqvist is almost ready to make the jump to the show.

Why I’m Not a Fan of this Move

  • After watching some highlights and reading player analyses, the only two positives I can draw about Alexander Nylander are skilled hands and a decent shot from the left circle. He draws massive criticism from Buffalo fans for his general lack of effort and soft playing style. I don’t take one individual’s observation as the gospel truth, but after reading numerous comments I can say that this Reddit user sums up what Sabres Nation thinks of Nylander:

Sabres fan here, but more importantly, Rochester Americans fan. I came here to find info on Jokiharju, and this will probably get downvoted, but figured I’d provide some insight on Nylander.

He has looked… ok in the limited time he spent called up to the NHL, but down in Rochester he was one of the most frustrating players I can recall in my 30 years of watching Rochester hockey. Afraid of contact on both sides of the puck, he won’t take a hit and certainly won’t give one either. 99% of the time he is carrying the puck and challenged, he immediately gets rid of it, often with an inaccurate pass or a straight up turnover. He doesn’t go into corners, he doesn’t battle on the boards, he doesn’t get near the net unless it’s to drift in for a potential rebound, guaranteed he’ll be untouched in the process.

There are a lot of questions on his toughness, determination, and grit. Or lack of all three. He missed the final two weeks of the regular season and the first round of playoffs because of a cut on his leg. He was seen walking around the facility just fine in that 3-week span. You could hear the coach and GM’s frustration in interviews, at one point, Rochester Coach Taylor slipping that it was a minor cut and that he was experiencing “some discomfort”. Last year, he missed development camp, training camp and the first month and a half of the AHL season with a mystery lower-body injury rumored to be a pulled groin. Sure, we don’t know what exactly was going on with possible injuries, but it was a constant with him, and healing time was always questionably long. He was hurt in January, he was hurt again in February, and the leg cut happened in March. It was hard to believe he couldn’t manage dealing with the leg cut to join his teammates in the playoffs, some likely playing through worse.

It always seemed that he thought he was too good to be in the AHL, which would also explain why he gave more effort in the NHL. He was far from the top of scoring leaders/PPG in Rochester, yet was an 8th overall draft pick. It just felt like once competition became difficult after being drafted, he didn’t have the drive and determination to grow as a player.

I truly hope a change of scenery does him well. He’s an amazing puck handler, but caught in the awkward spot of not being physical enough to be a bottom 6 forward, but also not skilled/driven enough to be a top 6 either.

  • That analysis is a MASSIVE red flag for me. Nick Schmaltz 2.0, anyone?
  • Nylander’s numbers back this up. His best season came in the OHL in 2015-16 when he posted 28 goals and 47 assists over 57 games. Since then? 30 goals and 56 assists in 165 games over three seasons for the Sabres AHL affiliate Rochester Americans.
  • Even if Alexander Nylander has a breakout campaign and the Hawks fall in love with him, he’s good as gone when his entry-level contract expires after the 2020-21 season. His agent, Lewis Gross, also represents Alexander’s brother, William Nylander, who held out until December of this past season while Gross negotiated a contract with the Maple Leafs. Gross ultimately landed Nylander a lucrative six-year deal that could make things extremely difficult on the Leafs down the road.
  • I believe Henri Jokiharju is poised to become an extremely well-rounded defenseman. He may not have been part of your “shut-down” pair of the future, but he certainly would have been a highly reliable complimentary piece.

Well, that felt good to get off my chest. Hopefully, I’ll look back on this in the middle of the season and admit my huffing and puffing was all for nothing because Alexander Nylander is tearing it up for the Hawks and Adam Boqvist is looking like the next Erik Karlsson. However, I’m not overly confident that will be the case based on the type of player Nylander is and the lengthy process of developing NHL-ready defensemen in Boqvist’s case. Only time will tell if this move benefits or hurts the Blackhawks, but we will certainly have it under a magnifying glass the whole way through.

Featured Photos: Jokiharju – Getty Images | Nylander – Hickling Images/Olean Times Herald

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BS-Broadcast Journalism - University of Illinois 2016 | Editor-in-Chief at | Panelist on Four Feathers Podcast and Sox On Tap

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3 years ago

[…] that the initial shock of the Henri Jokiharju for Alexander Nylander trade has worn off, it’s time to deal with […]

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