On Tuesday, the Sabres traded Alex Nylander to the Chicago Blackhawks for defenseman Henri Jokiharju. It was a simple, one-for-one deal that adds to an already heavy blueline in Buffalo.
So, is this guy any good?
YES. While Nylander may still turn out to be a high-quality NHL forward, Jokiharju has the potential to not only make the team this season, but slide right into Buffalo’s top four, or even top two down the road. A big part of that may be any potential Rasmus Ristolainen deal, but Jokiharju could make more of an impact for the Sabres this season than Nylander did since he was drafted.
The #Sabres acquire Henri Jokiharju from the #Blackhawks for Alex Nylander. A 2016, 8th overall pick, Nylander has yet to make an impact at the NHL level, while Jokiharju is coming off a solid rookie season where he proved to be an effective puck mover. pic.twitter.com/sk9XynK3X9
— The Point (@ThePointHockey) July 9, 2019
"I think I'm just a motoring defenseman right now, a two-way defenseman. I like to be with the puck and make plays." – Jokiharju, who counts Sabres prospect Oskari Laaksonen as one of his best friends and has played with Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen.
— John Vogl (@BuffaloVogl) July 10, 2019
“Jokiharju has the potential to be a top-four defenceman in the NHL. If he continues to develop, he can play on the power play and the penalty kill. He needs to add some muscle to his frame though and could stand to really work on his slap shot and wrister going forward. That may limit him to being more of a second unit, than first unit power play defenceman. In terms of style, he is reminiscent of Tomas Kaberlein terms of offensive game but is much more physical and aggressive in the physical game.”
Since then, Jokiharju has added 20-something pounds.
Henri Jokiharju’s RAPM chart is literally flipping Ristolainen the bird pic.twitter.com/rZa7IPSz2N
— Kevin (@ntrider825) July 9, 2019
An article from NHL.com stated that he is still an excellent prospect who has no real weakness.
“Jokiharju himself compares his style to that of New Jersey Devils blueliner Sami Vatanen. He has plenty of upside as an offensive defenseman with hope to one day quarterback a power play at the NHL level.”
Jokiharju has a cap hit of $925,000 for each of the next two seasons and he’ll be a restricted free agent at the end of that deal.
Look at what Buffalo’s defense could look like on opening night, assuming Ristolainen is dealt:
Sabres defensive core opening night 2017
Beaulieu – Risto
Scandella – Tennyson
McCabe – Antipin
Sabres defensive core in 2019
Dahlin – Miller
Pilut – Montour
McCabe – Jokiharju
Have yourself a year Jason Botterill.
— 23Sabres (@23sabres) July 9, 2019
That could be a very underrated defensive group.
Moving on from Nylander is a better move for both sides.
#Blackhawks forward Alex Nylander: “I’m just really happy right now and excited for the future. I just want to play my game and show them the player I can be."
— Carter Baum (@CarterBaum) July 9, 2019
Nylander struggled to really find his groove at the AHL level, making it difficult to envision him making the roster any time soon.
It’s not a guarantee that Jokiharju cracks the opening night lineup, but don’t be surprised to see his name there.