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FEATURE: Jokiharju happy with contract, looks to future

The Blackhawks top prospect comments on signing his first NHL contract and the next steps of his career

by Chris Wescott / chicagoblackhawks.com

Henri Jokiharju has a lot to look forward to in the near and distant future, but his most recent milestones are worth recognition as well.

Being selected 29th overall in 2017 by the Chicago Blackhawks was special. Signing his first NHL contract last week was another big moment.

"It's an unbelievable feeling for me," Jokiharju told Blackhawks TV. "Last year my dream came true. I got drafted by the Chicago Blackhawks. In 2010 I started to be a Blackhawks fan so it's unbelievable for me. I'm really happy to sign the contract."

Video: Jokiharju thrilled to sign with Blackhawks

In his first year in the system, the club's top prospect made important strides in his development. Jokiharju recorded 71 points (12G, 59A), while leading the Western Hockey League's Portland Winterhawks defensively. Then he joined Team Finland ahead of Worlds and, despite seeing his time on the roster cut short, the experience was valuable.

"It was a good year," he said. "To start, I came to main camp and see the guys and I got to see what it's like to be a pro for one week. After that, I went back to Portland. Things went pretty well but we got dropped in the second round. After my season, I got called up to the Finnish national team for a week - I think I was there two weeks. I think I got six games over there and it was a lot of fun to see how pros play. It was a little different. The ice was bigger and stuff like that, but it was so much fun and I enjoyed it."

Jokiharju said playing with Finland, even for just a few tune-up games, was a "big step" for him.

"I felt like I could play with the men," he explained. "It gave me a confidence boost and it was awesome."

That realization is a major benefit moving forward, as Jokiharju will indeed be competing against a raised level of competition when he inevitably makes the jump to the pros.

As this past season shifts into the rear view, we look to present day and what Jokiharju is currently doing to prepare for his next challenge.

"I'm just getting better all the time, in every area I'm getting better," he said of his summer plans. "I actually start skating (this week) so I'm excited to get back on the ice and work on my skills on the ice as well."

With an opportunity to make the jump to the NHL, the blueliner is eager to make an impression on the Blackhawks in camp. Nothing is guaranteed, but anything is possible.

"Of course, you want to show what you've got and how you've improved, be disciplined in every area," he said. "(I want to) show my confidence stuff like that and what I'm good at."

Jokiharju, who turns 19 on Sunday, is trying to stay level-headed in terms of expectations, but he knows the opportunity is certainly there for the taking.

"I don't want to look too much into the future, but of course I will train every day as hard as I can," he said. "I think the closest thing I can see in my future is making the home opener roster, opening night. That's the biggest goal for me right now."

Past, present and future are all bright for the young man from Tampere, Finland.

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