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Jokiharju could make jump for Blackhawks this season

Defenseman prospect was No. 29 pick at 2017 NHL Draft

by Chris Kuc / NHL.com Correspondent

CHICAGO -- Henri Jokiharju is doing whatever it takes to play for the Chicago Blackhawks this season.

That includes picking the brain of two-time Norris Trophy winner Duncan Keith.

Jokiharju, a defenseman, was Chicago's first-round pick (No. 29) at the 2017 NHL Draft. The 19-year-old is a right-handed shot and has a legitimate chance to play this season alongside Keith, who has played 995 games with Chicago over 13 seasons and in 2017 was named one of the NHL's 100 Greatest Players.   

"Duncan Keith is a role model for me," Jokiharju said. "He can play like 30 minutes in a game and he's not even tired and every decision he makes is right. He's one of the biggest guys I talk to and I want to learn from the most."

 

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Jokiharju, a native of Oulu, Finland, had 71 points (12 goals, 59 assists) and was plus-47 in 63 games with Portland of the Western Hockey League last season. It was a big jump from 2016-17, when he had 48 points (nine goals, 39 assists) in 71 games for Portland. 

And after watching forward Alex DeBrincat not only play for the Blackhawks as a 19-year-old last season, but lead them with 28 goals, Jokiharju knows his age won't hold him back.  

"Alex came here last year and did the same thing, so why not me this year?" Jokiharju said. "I don't want to put any pressure on myself. I just want to see how it goes."

Blackhawks general manager Stan Bowman believes Jokiharju is on the right track, especially after the strides the defenseman made in his own zone. 

"He's an impressive all-around player," Bowman said. "Last year offensively he had a great season, but he really learned how to be a two-way defenseman. The biggest jump for him is going to be can he defend. I think his offensive skills are elite."

Bowman was also impressed with Jokiharju's size (6-foot-1, 180 pounds). How Jokiharju fares against men in training camp will go a long way in determining whether he is ready to make the jump.

"He really trained hard," Bowman said. "He looks like an NHL-type body right now. Physically is probably the one thing that's a challenge [because] you're going up against the biggest and strongest kids. He took some strides there, and I think it's going to be how does he do in training camp on the defensive side."

Jokiharju, who said his hockey role models growing up in Finland were Kris Letang of the Pittsburgh Penguins and Sami Vatanen of the New Jersey Devils, is trying to stay level-headed as he approaches training camp in September. He knows his dream of playing in the NHL is within reach. 

"You don't want to set the bar too high and you don't want to set the bar too low, but that's the dream," Jokiharju said. "It's a big step, but I don't want to think about it too much. I just want to give 100 percent and I think it will be good."

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