Blackhawks

Blackhawks swap prospects with Sabres, trade Henri Jokiharju

Blackhawks swap prospects with Sabres, trade Henri Jokiharju

The Blackhawks have had a busy offseason so far, and that continued on Tuesday when the team announced that they traded defenseman prospect Henri Jokiharju to the Buffalo Sabres in exchange for forward prospect Alex Nylander.

Nylander, who was taken No. 8 overall by the Sabres in 2016, has two years left on his entry-level contract that carries an $863,333 cap hit. He's 21 years old and spent the majority of the 2018-19 season in the American Hockey League, where he recorded 31 points (12 goals, 19 assists) in 49 games for the Rochester Americans.

Nylander is known to be an offensively-gifted player, but his production hasn't translated to the NHL yet as he has six points (three goals, three assists) in 19 career games for the Sabres. The Blackhawks are hoping a change of scenery and larger opportunity could help him unlock his full potential.

"It’s not easy to acquire talented players like Alex," GM Stan Bowman said on Tuesday's conference call. "He’s somebody we scouted, remember back in the draft year, we didn’t have a first-round pick that year. But we were very impressed with him. He’s a guy we had a lot of time for, and we knew we weren’t going to be able to draft him, drafting in the second round. But he’s such a high-skilled, talented player. So when those are the situations you’re looking at, trying to acquire someone like that, you have to deal from a position of strength."

But the bigger surprise is Jokiharju getting dealt, although perhaps it shouldn't have been because the math suggested somebody from the blue line was eventually going to be moved. First-round picks Nicolas Beaudin and Adam Boqvist have high-end potential and are both likely a year away from being pro-ready, as is second-round pick Ian Mitchell, and could factor into the equation as soon as next season.

"I guess maybe the progression of a lot of our other young defensemen to where we feel we’ve built up a good stable of young players and now we have the ability to make a move like this," Bowman said. "... With the progression of Mitchell and Boqvist, it’s nice to see how they’ve taken strides this year, much like Henri has. So it’s really more the depth of our defense prospects made this a move we were able to make. That’s probably the simple answer to why we were able to do this now as opposed to a year ago at this time."

Jokiharju, who was drafted No. 29 overall by the Blackhawks in 2017, appeared in 38 games with the Blackhawks last season and compiled 12 points, all of which were assists. He logged heavy minutes and played on the top pairing with Duncan Keith, but appeared to fall out of favor when the Blackhawks made a coaching change in November.

The questionable part is that the return for Jokiharju centered around a young prospect who's still developing but has question marks and doesn't fill an immediate need on the NHL roster, such as a top-nine forward. The Blackhawks like Nylander's versatility and perhaps he'll turn into a consistent top-six winger, but he's no lock to make the Opening Day roster.

"I expect him to be fighting for a spot on our team, for sure," Bowman said. "We don’t hand out those jobs in the summer, but I think with his offensive talent and his skill level, it’s certainly exciting to think what he can be when you put him with some of the players we have. If you look at our team last year, we have two pretty good pairs there between [Patrick] Kane and [Jonathan] Toews, [Dylan] Strome and [Alex] DeBrincat.

"One thing about Alex that’s appealing, as well, is he can play left and right wing. Not every player can do that, but he has the skill level to play on the off wing. Looking at our top two lines, one line we’re probably looking for a left wing, the other we’re looking for a right winger. Those tandems may not stay in place, but the way we ended the year, it’s probably something we’re going to start with. So now it’s a question of, who do we fill in around them and I think Alex is a candidate. But it’s still early to see where that’s going to go.

"I think just the flexibility of him playing left and right, and we don’t have a lot of right-handed skill forwards outside of DeBrincat. So from that perspective, it’s something we’ll look at it, give him an opportunity to be on our team. He’s been a pro for a couple of years now, so it’s not all new to him. The opportunity will be there. Now it’s going to be up to Alex, just like every other player in camp, to show what they can do and play their best hockey."

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Blackhawks Talk Podcast: An inside look at the Blackhawks Hockey Ops department with Senior VP Al MacIsaac

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USA Today

Blackhawks Talk Podcast: An inside look at the Blackhawks Hockey Ops department with Senior VP Al MacIsaac

On the latest Blackhawks Talk Podcast, Pat Boyle catches up with Senior VP of Hockey Operations, Al MacIsaac. They discuss the process the Blackhawks took in transforming the roster this off-season. MacIsaac is entering his 20th year with the Blackhawks and talks about the organizational changes over the last two decades. He also weighs in on the role analytics plays in evaluating current or potential Blackhawks and he explains why the team made a commitment to make its new practice facility the “gold standard” of the NHL.

0:45 – MacIsaac on changes within the Blackhawks organization in the last 20 years

4:00 – How the Blackhawks have added great depth this summer

5:25 – A good problem to have with two good goaltenders

6:23 – How the hockey ops meeting went at the end of last season

8:45 – How much the Blackhawks use and rely on analytics

10:27 – The importance of the Blackhawks strength and conditioning programs

12:24 – The planning behind Fifth Third Arena’s development

14:40 – The dynamic between hockey ops and business ops

16:37 – Agreements and disagreements within the hockey ops group

18:32 – MacIsaac’s longtime relationship with Mark Bernard

20:27 – Looking ahead to training camp and the regular season

22:42 – Tough decisions will need to be made when the season starts

Listen here or in the embedded player below. 

Blackhawks Talk Podcast

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Andrew Shaw on his career season in Montreal and adding toughness to Blackhawks

Andrew Shaw on his career season in Montreal and adding toughness to Blackhawks

Andrew Shaw had a terrific 2018-19 season with the Montreal Canadiens. He set a career high with 47 points (19 goals, 28 assists) despite missing 19 games due to injuries and averaged 15:55 of ice time, which was the highest of his NHL career.

When asked to explain why he believes he had the best offensive output of his career, Shaw pointed to one thing.

“Honestly I just think it was the hunger for the game," Shaw said in an interview with NBC Sports Chicago. "I missed nine months with knee surgery and concussions. I battled back to get back to where I needed to be and just started having fun again. Maybe I’m bigger, stronger, older. I think I’ve been in situations in games so many times that you’re better at reacting to them so I think that maybe that has a little bit to do with it.”

The Blackhawks reacquired Shaw because they've lacked some jam in their game over the past couple seasons. And looking at the other moves GM Stan Bowman has made this summer, it's clear that's an area they prioritized.

Shaw noticed it too and he's excited to see how it'll all come together this coming season.

“I still have to be me," Shaw said. "I still have to go out there and work and compete and bring the energy I’ve always brought. I think it’s the intensity and the love of the game that pushes me to do that so I think it’s something that others feed off of. With a couple other guys they brought in, too, we got a little bit more grit, a little bit more defensive game. I think it’s going to be a really good year.”

Check out the interview in the video above.

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