Chicago Blackhawks

Blackhawks trade back, select Henri Jokiharju at No. 29

Blackhawks trade back, select Henri Jokiharju at No. 29

The Blackhawks made their third trade of the day Friday night, but this one didn't have the same magnitude as the first two.

Still, history was made in Chicago as the Blackhawks made their selection in front of their hometown fans for the the first time in league history.

Gary Bettman announced the first deal of the NHL Draft involved Chicago, which shipped its No. 26 overall pick (goaltender Jake Oettinger) to Dallas in exchange for the No. 29 overall pick and a third-rounder (No. 70 overall).

When it was the Blackhawks' turn to pick, Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews were introduced in front of a packed United Center crowd and welcomed their newest teammate by announcing the selection of Finnish defenseman Henri Jokiharju at No. 29 overall.

"It's an amazing feeling, of course," Jokiharju said after getting drafted. "Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane calling my name, it can't be a better feeling."

Jokiharju, who's 18 years old and comes in at 6-foot-1, 187 pounds, scored nine goals and 39 assists in 71 regular-season games for the Portland Winterhawks of the WHL, and also tallied three assists in 11 playoff contests. 

He's known to be a puck-mover and carries a right-handed shot a big reason why the Blackhawks had their eye on him all along — and ended up getting a free third-round pick for it as well.

"Henri is a player we've really been high on all year," Blackhawks GM Stan Bowman said of Jokiharju. "He's a right-handed shot defensemen, those are a commodity in today's game, it's hard to find them. He plays a modern style of hockey. Great skill set, good skater, can handle the puck, make plays. ... He's a big asset. Just looking around the league, it's really hard to find defensemen, particularly right-handed, so we're really thrilled."

Here's Jokiharju's scouting report on himself, which is along the lines of defensemen Adam Larsson, Kris Letang and Sami Vatanen who he models his game after:

"I'm a really good skater," he said. "I play with confidence. I'm a puck-moving D, making good passes, simple passes, whatever helps our other players. I love playing power play and PK too, so I want to be a big part of the team, of course."

But the Blackhawks won't rush him to the professional level. Developing young defensemen takes time, and patience will certainly be preached.

"I try not to put a timeline on it in terms of when he'll be ready," Bowman said. "But he certainly had an impressive season, we like his skill set. He's got that combination of skill, skating, passing, he can defend but he can also get up the ice and join the rush and make things happen with the puck on the blue line. He can move around, play on the power play, so I like that part of his game.

"It's hard to predict when he's going to be ready for the NHL, but we're not going to rush him. We're gonna let him develop at his own rate and I think he's got a bright future."

Jokiharju said he's watched a lot of the Blackhawks, who have won three Stanley Cups led by the two players that called his name. And he wants to be a part of the winning culture.

"I hear stories about Duncan Keith, the passion, how hard he trains and practices, and [Brent] Seabrook of course he's a great leader," Jokiharju said. "Kane and Toews, I'm watching those players a lot and how they lead their team under pressure. I want to be like those two guys."

Five Things from Blackhawks-Blue Jackets: Shots and slashes

Five Things from Blackhawks-Blue Jackets: Shots and slashes

It’s preseason: you don’t need a lot of build-up. Let’s just delve right in, shall we?

1. Lots of shots, but…

The same Joonas Korpisalo that the Blackhawks’ youngsters scored five goals against on Tuesday was on top of his game on Saturday. The Blackhawks peppered him with 54 shots but only two got through, and the second was a 6-on-4 power-play goal in the final two minutes.

“I thought we could have gotten a little more traffic in front of him," Nick Schmaltz said. "I thought we were playing along the outside. I mean we had some great looks. He made some big saves. Some nights you get the bounces and some nights you don’t.”

2. Bérubé’s Blackhawks debut.

Jean-François Bérubé had a tough sequence early in the second period, when he gave up two goals in a 28-second span. This was against a Columbus team that didn’t send many of their top players. He also didn’t see a ton of action in this one; the Blue Jackets fired just 21 shots his way.

3. Growing pains.

Alex DeBrincat had his up and down moments on Saturday night. His turnover led to Columbus’ first goal, he took a slashing penalty and he fought the puck quite a bit. You still saw glimpses of that skill, though, especially with his quick release. Hey, he’s a 19-year-old guy getting his first taste of the NHL. Nights like this are going to happen.

“We all make mistakes,” coach Joel Quenneville said. “You gotta be safe in certain areas and you learn from that.”

4. Slash-o-meter.

Four more were called on Saturday night. Don’t be surprised if that number starts dwindling sooner rather than later, though, because the edict has apparently changed already. Sportsnet’s John Shannon reported earlier on Saturday that the league told officials to ease up on slashing and faceoff violations. But we all figure that’s going to happen once the regular season begins anyway, right?

5. Notre Dame bound.

The destination is familiar but the Blackhawks threw it into their second week of camp this season. It’ll be bonding time for the Blackhawks, who will send a smaller group for several practices there this week. Quenneville figures it’ll be a productive time. “We’ll get some bonding in, play golf together, have a nice outing, couple of road games and a nice campus.”

Nick Schmaltz's confidence, hold on second-line center, continues to grow

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USA TODAY

Nick Schmaltz's confidence, hold on second-line center, continues to grow

Nick Schmaltz seemed to be everywhere the puck was on Saturday night. Great pursuit of the puck, great passes to Patrick Kane or Alex DeBrincat and an all-around confidence that’s becoming more apparent by the game.

So has coach Joel Quenneville seen what he’s needed to from Schmaltz at second-line center?

“And more.”

It’s been a pretty impressive showing for Schmaltz this month. The 21-year-old has played in all three of the Blackhawks’ preseason games and keeps getting better in each one. The uncertainty Schmaltz understandably showed as a rookie is gone; the NHL game no longer feels uncomfortable.

“I feel like the game’s slowing down for me, just seeing plays,” Schmaltz said. “I know what I’m doing with the puck before I get it. It feels good and just trying to get better every day.”

Schmaltz and his fellow second liners didn’t connect for goals in the Blackhawks 3-2 loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets on Saturday but it wasn’t for lack of trying. The three combined for 12 of the Blackhawks’ 54 shots on goal – Kane and DeBrincat each had five – and the chemistry continues to build between the three.

Jonathan Toews talked on Saturday morning of how much more relaxed Schmaltz looks with the puck now, and that was evident again later that night.

“He’s really starting to get comfortable physically at this level,” Toews said. “He thinks the game so well, puts himself in good spots, much like Kaner where he can skate with the puck and use his speed. He has his head up so he backs guys off. Those two were making great plays tonight and Brinksy was fitting in well. They couldn’t buy a goal but Schmaltzy’s getting better and better, and you’re’ seeing that calm poise that he has really come out the more he gets comfortable.”

Schmaltz was likely getting a second-line audition in some capacity this fall; the original thought was at left wing in the wake of Artemi Panarin’s trade. But Schmaltz has always felt at his best at center. He’s showing that. And more.

“It’s always fun to play no matter if it’s preseason or regular season," he said. "I’m always happy to play, especially when you’re playing with great players. I feel like I’m more comfortable in the middle, able to use my speed a little bit more, create more offense that way.

"I think it’s going well. Wherever I end up, I’ll be happy.”