Blackhawks defenseman Brent Seabrook can relate to Henri Jokiharju, who’s 19. He knows what it’s like to be one of the youngest rookies on an NHL roster because he made his debut when he was 20.
“I remember my first game I was minus-3 or minus-4,” said Seabrook, who was actually minus-1 with an assist in his NHL debut Oct. 5, 2005. “I didn’t know if I could play in the league. You know, it’s a different game. It’s a fast game; it’s exciting.”
Seabrook said he looked to veteran defensemen Adrian Aucoin and Jassen Cullimore for advice during his first season. But some of the greatest lessons on how to become an elite NHL defenseman, Seabrook said, came from simply watching them.
“I was young once, too — a long, long time ago in this league,” Seabrook said. “As a young guy, for myself, it’s just watching the older guys. . . . You take traits and see how they do things and how they get themselves in trouble, how they get themselves out of trouble.”
With 13 seasons and more than 1,000 games under his belt, Seabrook is the type of player Jokiharju can look to for help. And Seabrook hopes he can be a mentor.
“Whatever we can [do to] help,” Seabrook said. “We want to help.”
Jokiharju already has flashed his potential. At the start of training camp, coach Joel Quenneville had yet to be convinced that a young defenseman such as Jokiharju would be ready for the high-speed, hard-hitting NHL. But Jokiharju quickly dispelled the doubts.
“I liked [Jokiharju’s] game,” Quenneville said after the Hawks’ 4-1 victory Saturday against the Blue Jackets. “We like the way he participates in the attack. [He has] good patience with the puck in the offensive zone, as well. He’ll learn a lot about how to cover, little situations for a defenseman to improve upon, containment, influencing, and that consistency with how he defends is only going to enhance his game.”
Said Seabrook: “It’s impressive to see a kid come in at a young age like that and play as well as he has in training camp. And hopefully he’ll continue to get better and help us out.”
Last season, Jokiharju was one of the top defensemen in the Western Hockey League with 12 goals and 71 points.
Seabrook has been impressed with his natural ability, but he also realizes that, like for any rookie, there are going to be growing pains.
“He’s good,” Seabrook said. “He’s smooth, the way he handles the puck, the way he skates. I think his skating is a lot different than mine. I have to play a lot more positionally; he can get himself in a little bit of trouble and make up for it.”
And Quenneville believes this is only the beginning for Jokiharju, a first-round pick in 2017.
“He can only get better,” Quenneville said.
Jokiharju has said he hasn’t really thought about opening night yet, but Seabrook expects the young Finn will be excited Thursday on the road against the Senators.
“An exhibition is an exhibition, but that first regular-season game is pretty special,” Seabrook said. “I’m sure he’ll have some nerves.”
And Seabrook made it clear that there’s nothing wrong with being a little nervous. At 33, he still gets game-day jitters.
“I’d be lying if I said I didn’t get nervous [for games],” Seabrook said. “It’s just human nature.”