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Jokiharju hoping for bigger role with Sabres

Defenseman acquired from Blackhawks excited for 'good opportunity'

by Heather Engel / Correspondent

BUFFALO -- Henri Jokiharju feels he has a lot to give the Buffalo Sabres.

"It's a good opportunity for me, coming to a great, great organization like the Buffalo Sabres," the 20-year-old defenseman said Wednesday, one day after he was acquired in a trade with the Chicago Blackhawks for forward Alexander Nylander. "I'm pumped to play for the Sabres."

Jokiharju is another mobile defenseman for Buffalo, joining Rasmus Dahlin, Brandon Montour and Colin Miller.


[RELATED: Jokiharju traded to Sabres by Blackhawks for Nylander]


"I'm just like a modern defenseman right now, two-way defenseman," said Jokiharju, who had 12 assists in 38 games with the Blackhawks last season. "I like to be with the puck and make some good plays. When I get the puck, get it to better guys who can make some points and score some goals, and just make some plays and be a good two-way defenseman, take care of both ends."

Selected by Chicago in the first round (No. 29) of the 2017 NHL Draft, Jokiharju earned a spot on the Blackhawks roster as a 19-year-old last season, making the jump after two seasons with Portland of the Western Hockey League.

He quickly earned the trust of Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville, playing more than 20 minutes in 11 of his first 15 NHL games before Quenneville was fired Nov. 6 and replaced by Jeremy Colliton.

"I took some steps in my game, just learned how to play in the NHL," Jokiharju said. "Obviously, it's tough to just to come right away from juniors, play in the NHL. You just learn how to be a pro, how to play game after game. Obviously, it's a big confidence boost for me this upcoming season with Buffalo."

Video: Sabres trade Nylander to Blackhawks for Jokiharju

His role dipped under Colliton, playing more than 20 minutes five times in 23 games. The Blackhawks loaned him to Finland for the IIHF World Junior Championship, when he had five points (two goals, three assists) in seven games to help it win the tournament. Jokiharju played six NHL games upon his return before he was he sent to Rockford of the American Hockey League. He had 17 points (two goals, 15 assists) in 30 AHL games. 

"I played every role that was asked of me in Rockford. I got lots of power-play time so, of course, if you play first power-play unit you get more comfortable with the game," Jokiharju said. "If you're not even playing power play it's hard to come in with my style of defenseman. … When you have that five minutes of extra time it's a little bit easier for you."

Jokiharju said he is excited to meet his teammates and knows Sabres prospects, and fellow Finland-born players, Ukko Pekka-Lukkonen and Oskari Laaksonen.

With a season of professional hockey under his belt, Jokiharju is hoping to make the full-time jump to the NHL.

"I hope that I can play a whole season next year in Buffalo," he said. "I'm just putting in lots of work right now during the summer [to make sure] I show up in good shape and just be ready to show everyone, the coaching staff and players I'm ready to play in the NHL all year long."

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