The San Jose Sharks had just five picks in the 2016 NHL Draft, and they used each selection wisely. Forced to look beyond the players sure to go in the first and second rounds, the Sharks found a gem in the seventh round, using the 210th overall pick on Joachim Blichfeld.
Prior to being drafted, the Frederikshavn, Denmark, native played for Malmo's junior squads in the Swedish junior divisions, winning a bronze medal in the Under-18 division in 2015-16.
After his selection in 2016, he started his first junior season in the Western Hockey League (WHL) on the Portland Winterhawks. Blichfeld is a natural scorer, so registering points came easy in his rookie season. He finished with 58 points (28 goals, 30 assists) in 63 games.
Impressed with Joachim's first season and a half in juniors, the Sharks officially signed him to his first NHL contract in December 2017. Blichfeld knew if he wanted to play in the NHL one day, he needed to improve other aspects of his game, ending the 2017-18 season with 56 points (24 goals, 32 assists) in 56 games played.
"In the first couple years, his physical compete on pucks wasn't as good as it had to be to be a pro player [and] his defensive game wasn't as good as it had to be to be a pro player," said Mike Johnston, head coach and general manager of the Portland Winterhawks. "Those are the areas we focused on with him a lot and he's taken pride in doing that."
Joachim put in the work, and it paid off at the end of his second season when he finally got a taste of the professional hockey that he'd been craving. Blichfeld joined the San Jose Barracuda in two American Hockey League (AHL) playoff games.
"It was awesome. It's a place where you want to play and I know everyone has the same goal as me," said Blichfeld. "You want to play in the NHL."
Despite wanting to stay with the Barracuda this season, he was sent back to Portland in September for his final season in juniors. Ignoring the initial sting of not being able to stay in the pros, Joachim embraced the opportunity to continue to improve his game.
"I think it helped a lot," said Blichfeld. "I came back here [to Portland] and put the working hat on and improved a lot of errors in my game so I would be ready to play pro next year."
Blichfeld has completely dominated the WHL this season, registering a total of 112 points (53 goals, 59 assists). He currently leads the entire Canadian Hockey League (CHL) in points, and WHL skaters in points and goals. Joachim also leads the Winterhawks in points, goals, assists, power-play goals (16) and power-play assists (30).
Joachim has a very high hockey sense and natural touch around the net. He quickly proved his ability to be an elite scorer in the WHL, but over the past three seasons, Joachim has worked to effort to improve and develop his game overall. From his skating, to his explosiveness, to his defensive game, Blichfeld is becoming the type of player you need to be to compete at the professional level.
"His offensive instincts are good, but I think where he's improved the most is that he's a more versatile player." said Johnston. "He plays against the other team's top line, he kills penalties, he's become much more versatile where us as coaches are more comfortable to use him anywhere on the ice."
When Joachim inevitably takes his talent to the next level, he will join just a small group of Danish hockey players in professional hockey. There are only seven active NHL players from Denmark and just two in the AHL, fellow Sharks prospect and San Jose Barracuda forward, Alex True, being one of them.
"He's playing a much more well-rounded game, which suits the NHL level because coaches may want you to just play a fourth line or eight-minute game for them to start with and he's got to be ready to play that role," said Johnston.
An assistant captain for the Portland Winterhawks, Joachim's hard work and leadership is resulting in huge production on the ice at the junior level, a production he is sure to take with him to the professional level.