Chicago Blackhawks Rookies Are Stepping Up

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Henri Jokiharju
CHICAGO, IL - OCTOBER 23: Chicago Blackhawks defenseman Henri Jokiharju (28) skates with the puck in the 3rd period of game action during an NHL game between the Chicago Blackhawks and the Anaheim Ducks on October 23, 2018 at the United Center in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Robin Alam/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Chicago Blackhawks rookies who made the 2018-19 opening night roster included defenseman Henri Jokiharju and forwards Dominik Kahun, Luke Johnson, and Alexandre Fortin. All three of these forwards stood out in training camp and in pre-season games with their play. They have also continued to perform well enough to keep playing at the NHL level after the club’s first 13 games. This is a welcome sign for a team in rebuild.

Chicago Blackhawks Rookies

Henri Jokiharju

To those expecting a change on defence this season, it was no surprise that the Blackhawks 2017 first round draft choice, Jokiharju, made the team. The only question was how long would he stay with the big club. With injuries to Gustav Forsling and Connor Murphy to start the season, the door was open for Jokiharju. He had the chance to earn a permanent spot on the defence corps if he played well. He also could have been returned to the Portland Winterhawks of the AHL before playing 10 games at the NHL level. Returning him to the AHL would have saved burning the first year of his entry-level contract.

Fortunately for Jokiharju, he has played extremely well. He has shown the form that made him a first-round pick of the Blackhawks. His skating, puck handling, and offensive capabilities were highly touted before being drafted. His stock rose tremendously after a productive 2017-18 season with the Winterhawks. Last season Jokiharju scored 12 goals and had 59 assists in 63 games. The only questions about Jokiharju were whether he could play defence in the tough Western Conference and survive. With Jokiharju playing at 6-foot-0 and 190 pounds, there were concerns about him playing with the big boys.

The season began with head coach Joel Quenneville only playing Jokiharju in 5-on-5 situations. Quenneville protected his prized 19-year-old rookie by not throwing him into the fire completely at first. After the first five games of the season, Jokiharju began to see time on the power play. He has also gotten some limited time on the penalty killing unit recently.

While Jokiharju has had some struggles defending, his upside far outweighs any normal rookie errors. In 13 games, he has seven assists and is third on the team in average ice time at 21:17 per game. The most surprising stat are the 20 hits Jokiharju has so far this season. The fact that he leads the Blackhawks in this category may say more about the team itself than his physical presence on the ice.

Dominik Kahun

Dominik Kahun was signed by the Blackhawks as an undrafted rookie. He came to training camp after playing the previous four seasons in Germany. The 2017-18 season saw Kahun lead the German EHC Munchen team to a third straight title. Kahun scored a career-high 12 goals and 29 assists for 41 points in 42 games. His playoffs last year were also impressive with four goals and 10 assists for 14 points in 14 games.

The Blackhawks were looking for more consistent production from their third and fourth lines as the season began. Kahun has fit in nicely with his solid two-way play and offensive production so far. In 13 games Kahun has scored one goal and six assists and is a plus three on the year while playing over 14 minutes a night. A very solid showing for an undrafted rookie to say the least.

Luke Johnson and Alexandre Fortin

Luke Johnson and Alexandre Fortin have split time on the third or fourth line so far this season. Johnson has played in eight games and Fortin in ten. They are both getting their chance in the NHL as they near the end of their entry-level contracts. Johnson is in the last year of his three-year entry-level deal, and Fortin has another season to go before becoming a restricted free agent. after next season. They both played for the Rockford Ice Hogs last season with Fortin scoring four goals and 18 assists for 22 points in 53 games and Johnson scoring 13 goals and 17 assists for 30 points in 73 games.

This season they have settled into their roles on the third or fourth lines nicely. Fortin has shown great speed with the puck while chipping in a goal and three assists in nine games. Johnson has one assist in his eight games and has been a presence on the ice. He has 14 hits in the eight games and is currently 50 percent at the dot, both of these stats are sure to please coach Quenneville.

Down On The Farm

The Blackhawks are currently at 6-4-3 this season, squarely in the middle of the Central Division playoff picture. The four rookies currently with the team have been a big part of the team staying competitive. If any of the rookies struggle, however, there are several players waiting patiently in Rockford for their chance to play at the NHL level. Victor Ejdsell and Dylan Sikura got a taste in the NHL at the end of last season. Matthew Highmore and Jordan Schroeder have also been playing well for Rockford. On defence, Darren Raddysh is leading Rockford defencemen with six points in nine games. Things appear to be trending up for the storied franchise as they rebuild.

 

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