Game #20 – Sabres vs. Hawks Spotlight: The Kids Could Call You HarJu

No point in looking anywhere else. This is where the main focus will be tonight.

It needs to be said at the top that the most likely scenario is that the Hawks long-term success will not hinge on the departure of Henri Jokharju, no matter how he does in Buffalo. At least the Hawks had better hope not. And yet you can’t help but ignore it’s another burned first round pick, assuming Alex Nylander continues to do a fearsome impression of “Memoirs Of An Invisible Man” as he has the past couple weeks.

It’s also one of the stranger sagas for a young player in the Hawks system.

What was so weird is that usually, Joel Quenneville would rather have Malort pudding than play young d-men. He was immediately enamored with Jokiharju last year. Now, that could have been out of desperation. Connor Murphy was hurt, not that Q would ever warm up to him, and the rest on display was trash. Jokiharju was at last mobile and had some skill. Remember, Q even flirted with trying to keep Boqvist around, such was his opinion of the Hawks blue line.

Jokiharju’s time in Chicago was up and down. He was up against it by starting his NHL career with Duncan Keith at perhaps his jumpiest and most disinterested, depending on the night. There were times he looked pretty calm, and others you didn’t really notice him, and others where he was getting buried. Pretty standard stuff for a teenage d-man.

But make no mistake, Jokiharju’s handling last year had a lot to do with the Hawks terrified of handling Brent Seabrook the way he deserved, and still does. The Hawks sent Jokiharju to the World Juniors, even though he didn’t want to go, because Connor Murphy was returning and the numbers indicated someone had to go. That bought them a couple weeks. They ultimately decided to keep him in Rockford because shuffling Slater Koekkoek, Carl Dahlstrom, and Gustav Forsling was a lot easier than playing Jokiharju every game and figuring the rest out. It had nothing to do with what made the Hawks better or his development.

It’s also weird how quickly he faded in their eyes. Jokiharju wasn’t terrible with them last year, even if he didn’t flash. But he went from easily making an opening night roster to suddenly below Ian Mitchell in their eyes down the road? And in only a couple months?

Clearly, something went on behind the scenes. It wasn’t much of a secret that Jokiharju wasn’t pleased about going to the WJC, and no more enthralled with the idea of spending half the season in Rockford. And the Hawks have never had much patience with kids who don’t follow their instructions silently. Generally that’s a good rule, but you do want some ambition in your prospects as well.

Jokiharju was also a victim of the Hawks slapdash, not-thought-through summer where they acquired de Haan and Maatta, who both had multiple years on their contracts left. How are they going to fit Mitchell onto the roster next year, even without the Finn taking up a spot? It’s jammed.

And if Mitchell and maybe Beaudin/Krys end up being contributors or more, and Boqvists fulfills his promise, no one’s going to notice Jokiharju’s absence. That’s what the Hawks are betting. The Sabres are certainly happy to have him.

Still, the last 10 years, the Hawks first round picks have essentially gotten them a season and a half of Teuvo Teravainen and nothing in return, a decent center in Dylan Strome but certainly no sure thing, Nylander who might not even make it out of this season, whatever Ryan Hartman was, two months of Thomas Fleischmann, and Boqvist and Dach. One was also moved along for Antoine Vermette, which hey, that works. Another was for the second go around of Andrew Ladd, which didn’t.

Here’s just a sampling of players the Hawks might have gotten with those picks: Evgeny Kuznetsov, Rickard Rakell, Jared McCann. Not exactly a great list, other than Kuznetsov back in 2010. But certainly the ones thatt have been moved along coudl have gone for more, or you’d hope they would.

Which makes Jokiharju’s trade even stranger. Certainly his value couldn’t have been hurt by letting him rip up the AHL for half of a season, or coming up when Connor Murphy invariably got injured. Maybe it wouldn’t have been too much more than Alex Nylander, but what these first round picks have become is a big reason why the Hawks are only now just putting in place a second generation after the glorious first one in the One Goal Era. Danault and Teuvo certainly would have helped with that.

Oh well.

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