In a somewhat surprising move, the Chicago Blackhawks have decided to assign Henri Jokiharju to the minor leagues. The young defenseman will be joining the Rockford IceHogs for the time being, wearing number 14 and continuing his development in the AHL.
At times this season Jokiharju has been the best defenseman on the ice for the Blackhawks, but since returning from a gold medal performance at the World Juniors has looked a little out of sorts. His ice time has been curtailed in recent games, a good sign that Chicago was considering a change for the young defenseman. There’s no doubt that Jokiharju has shown enough to prove he is already an NHL-caliber player, but seeing 12 minutes a night for the Blackhawks wasn’t going to cut it for his development. If the team believes they have a potential top-pairing defenseman, he needs to be seeing as much ice time as possible.
That doesn’t mean he won’t be back, but there is also another consideration for the Blackhawks if they do recall Jokiharju at some point. The 19-year old has played 37 games in the NHL, meaning this season would not count towards the seven required for free agency down the line. Chicago might very well be thinking big picture given their place outside the playoff race, and thinking that another year of restricted free agency with their prized prospect is worth more than his impact on the ice right now.