The door to the NHL might have just opened for Blackhawks top defensive prospect Henri Jokiharju.
The Hawks’ defense took a blow Friday morning before training camp even started. The team announced that defenseman Connor Murphy will be out eight weeks with a back injury and defenseman Brent Seabrook will be sidelined for one week with an abdominal injury.
With Murphy sidelined into the start of the season, the Hawks will need to add depth to their right side. That’s where Jokiharju, a right-handed defenseman, comes in.
Jokiharju, a first-round draft pick in 2017, told the Sun-Times in July that he hoped to follow in forward Alex DeBrincat’s footsteps. Last season, DeBrincat broke camp with the Hawks at 19.
This preseason, Jokiharju is viewed as one of the younger players on the cusp of making the Hawks’ opening night roster. However, because of the money the Hawks have tied up in several veteran defensemen, it appeared likely he would return to the Western Hockey League or upgrade to the AHL for this season to continue to work on his development.
The Hawks added free agent Brandon Manning on a two-year contract and re-signed Jan Rutta and Erik Gustafsson prior to the offseason. They also offered Brandon Davidson, who has four seasons of NHL experience, a professional tryout. Manning, Rutta and Gustafsson combine for $5.75 million worth of the Hawks’ cap space.
But with Murphy out, the Hawks could use a player like Jokiharju, who has been praised for the way he maneuvers through traffic, especially in the neutral zone. Last season, he was one of the top defensemen in the Western Hockey League, having 71 points, including 12 goals.
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