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Blackhawks end-of-season prospect review: Juniors

Henri Jokiharju appeared with the Hawks in the 2017 preseason. | Paul Vernon/AP Photo

The Blackhawks didn’t have many prospects playing in North American junior leagues this season. You could turn to the AHL or NCAA or overseas leagues and find many players whose rights are under the Hawks’ control, but at the juniors level, the organization laid claim to only three prospects.

So as we continue our review of the Blackhawks’ prospects across all levels for the 2017-18 season, the focus here is mainly on Henri Jokiharju. The 2017 first-round pick lived up to expectations throughout his second season with the Portland Winterhawks and was added to Finland’s roster pool for the 2018 World Championships next month.

Jokiharju won’t necessarily play for Finland in Copenhagen, but if he does, it could be a chance to face soon-to-be teammates Patrick Kane and Alex DeBrincat, who will play for Team USA. Playing well there could set up the runway for Jokiharju to make the NHL next season.

Here’s a look at the Hawks prospects who spent this season in junior leagues. You can check out our past article on prospects in Rockford here.

D Henri Jokiharju

Age: 18

Acquired via: 2017 first-round pick (No. 29)

Stats: 71 points in 63 WHL games

It’s hard not to be excited about Jokiharju given his potential and the status of the Blackhawks’ defense. The smooth 18-year-old blue liner can skate with the best of them and has shown an impressive ability to move the puck up the ice in the WHL. It’s still an open question how he’ll fare defending his own zone against NHL-caliber competition, but he might get a taste next month at the World Championships.

Everything about this season suggests that Jokiharju was worthy of the first-round pick used to select him. He played well in Portland and for Finland at the World Juniors, where he outplayed prospects with superior pedigrees. He’s in the mix for the World Championships at age 18 and seems in line to earn an entry-level deal this year.

Outside analysts don’t refer to him as a potential No. 1 defenseman given he’s not super flashy and needs to polish the defensive side of his game, but there’s so much to like about his game as a contemporary NHL blue liner. He’s the most talented young defenseman this organization has had since at least … Nick Leddy?

G Wouter Peeters

Age: 19

Acquired via: 2016 third-round pick (No. 83)

Stats: .902 save percentage in 30 USHL games

Patience is the name of the game with Peeters, who was drafted as a long-term project between the pipes two years ago. He made the move to North America this season to play in the USHL and showed some flashes but remains a raw talent whose NHL future is a total wild card.

The obvious reason for hope with Peeters is the same as it was in 2016: He’s a massive presence in the blue paint. Peeters measures at 6-4, 224 pounds, and he’s built with a wide frame that’s prototypical of modern NHL goalies. The best netminders are also incredibly mobile and athletic in goal, however, and that’s where the Hawks prospect has had to put in the most work to improve his game.

Peeters is still highly intriguing given he doesn’t turn 20 until July 31, but the past year hasn’t led to any grand revelation that he’s zooming to the big leagues. He remains a high-upside, high-risk goaltender prospect, just as he was 12 months ago.

D Jake Ryczek

Age: 20

Acquired via: 2016 seventh-round pick (No. 203)

Stats: 27 points in 33 QMJHL games

Ryczek actually began his season playing college hockey at Providence College, but left the school after just five games to join the QMJHL’s Halifax Mooseheads. Having turned 20 in March, Ryczek was a bit older than a lot of the competition, so it’s difficult to get too excited about his performance, which included 27 points in 33 regular season games.

Halifax was swept by Charlottetown in the quarterfinals of the QMJHL playoffs after eliminating Baie-Comeau with a 4-1 series win in the first round. Ryzcek recorded three assists in nine postseason games before the Mooseheads’ ouster.