Bowman says Jokiharju didn't fall out of favor with new coaching staff

                                                                                                                                                                                                   
  • When Joel Quenneville was coaching the Blackhawks this season, he paired Henri Jokiharju with Duncan Keith and trusted his rookie defenseman to play 20, 22 and even 24 or 25 minutes a night. But Jokiharju's role changed drastically almost from the moment Jeremy Colliton took over for the fired Quenneville on Nov. 6. So what happened?

    When Joel Quenneville was coaching the Blackhawks this season, he paired Henri Jokiharju with Duncan Keith and trusted his rookie defenseman to play 20, 22 and even 24 or 25 minutes a night. But Jokiharju's role changed drastically almost from the moment Jeremy Colliton took over for the fired Quenneville on Nov. 6. So what happened? Associated Press

 
 

When Joel Quenneville was coaching the Blackhawks this season, he paired Henri Jokiharju with Duncan Keith and trusted his rookie defenseman to play 20, 22 and even 24 or 25 minutes a night.

But Jokiharju's role changed drastically almost from the moment Jeremy Colliton took over for the fired Quenneville on Nov. 6.

• First, Jokiharju was yanked off the top pairing and saw his ice time plummet.

• Then, on Dec. 18, the Hawks assigned him to Team Finland to play in the World Juniors tournament.

• After Jokiharju returned, he played in just five more games -- averaging 14.5 minutes -- and was assigned to the Rockford IceHogs on Jan. 31.

So what happened? Was this path taken because Jokiharju struggled to adapt to the NHL? Or did he fall out of favor with Colliton?

Here's what GM Stan Bowman said when I posed that second theory last Sunday: "That's not accurate, John. He didn't fall out of favor. Our team changed a lot over time. Remember back to when our season started, we didn't have (Connor) Murphy or (Gustav) Forsling. If they were healthy, Henri wouldn't have started in the NHL, I don't think."

Perhaps. But that seems like a tough sell to think Quenneville would have been OK sending what he believed to be a top-pairing D-man to the American League. And lets also remember that Murphy didn't return until Game 31.

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Bowman finished his comments by saying "there's no negativity at all about Henri. We love his game (and) we still think he has a lot of promise. We have a couple of young defensemen on the way and he's one of them."

Who's ready?

So might one of these young defensemen make an impact next season?

"That's something that's hard to really roadmap who's going to be here when," Stan Bowman said. "We just need these guys to keep taking a step forward and when they're ready and when we need them in Chicago, they'll be here."

Adam Boqvist is the player fans want to see sooner rather than later, but the 18-year-old Swede is still honing his skills in the OHL. The eighth overall pick of last year's draft, Boqvist scored 20 goals and had 40 assists in 54 games for the London Knights, but his defensive skills still need work.

Things could change if Boqvist takes a giant leap this summer, but he's probably another year away.

Others to keep tabs on include:

• Nicolas Beaudin, taken 27th last season. He had 7 goals and 49 assists in 53 games in the Quebec juniors.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

• Ian Mitchell, a second-round pick in 2017 who just completed his sophomore season at the University of Denver.

• Dennis Gilbert, Blake Hillman, Chad Krys and Lucas Carlsson, who are all playing for Rockford.

Who's coming back?

It will be interesting to see what the Hawks do with the dozen restricted free agents under their control.

The four that spent a majority of their time in the NHL were forwards Brendan Perlini ($863,333 cap hit) and David Kampf ($925,000), and defensemen Gustav Forsling ($872,500) and Slater Koekkoek ($865,000).

Perlini and Kampf should return, and there's too much untapped potential to let Forsling or Koekkoek walk.

"(Forsling's) maximum level is fantastic," said coach Jeremy Colliton, who wants the Swede to be more consistent. "He's been our best 'D' on some nights. … You can't deny the raw ability is there. He loves to make plays, he wants to make a difference. ...

"Just a matter of putting all the pieces together to be a tough defender in the NHL."

If the Hawks aren't considering moving Henri Jokiharju, then Forsling might be good trade bait this summer.

Notable RFAs in Rockford include Dylan Sikura, Victor Ejdsell, Luke Johnson, defenseman Blake Hillman and goalie Anton Forsberg. The 26-year-old Forsberg is third in the AHL in save percentage (.920) and 16th in goals-against average (2.63).

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