The Buffalo Sabres have locked up a second restricted free agent after inking Casey Mittelstadt to a three-year, $7.5MM deal earlier today. Henri Jokiharju has agreed to a deal with the same terms, signing through the 2023-24 season at a $2.5MM average annual value. PuckPedia reports the full breakdown:
- 2021-22: $2.4MM
- 2022-23: $2.5MM
- 2023-24: $2.6MM
Jokiharju, 22, was the player acquired from the Chicago Blackhawks in exchange for Alexander Nylander in 2019 and has played 115 games for the Sabres over the last two seasons. His performance in those games has been passable, though the young defenseman has still not taken the step forward some expected after making the NHL as a teenager in Chicago.
Selected 29th overall in 2017, Jokiharju was in the NHL by 2018, playing big minutes for the Blackhawks at the age of 19. In fact, he averaged 21:30 in his first 20 games in the league and racked up nine points. Unfortunately, the high ceiling he flashed during that stretch as a top-end two-way defenseman hasn’t been matched in the years since, with Jokiharju registering just eight points in 46 games this season in Buffalo.
Still, with the current situation of the Sabres, young talent that can hold their own at the NHL level will be given plenty of opportunities to show what they can do. With this contract Jokiharju becomes the only defenseman in the entire organization signed to a one-way contract for 2022-23, as Colin Miller, Will Butcher, Robert Hagg and Mark Pysyk are all scheduled for unrestricted free agency next summer. Rasmus Dahlin will join Jokiharju whenever his contract is finalized, as the two pillars to build around on the Buffalo blueline. Owen Power will likely join them before long, though he won’t be around to help when the season gets underway next month.
With Rasmus Ristolainen out of the picture, the path is clear for Jokiharju to log big minutes once again this year and prove that he is a legitimate top-four option at the NHL level. If he does, this contract will suddenly look like a steal; if he struggles, there’s not a ton of risk for the Sabres who won’t be anywhere near the cap ceiling as they continue a scorched earth rebuild.