Blackhawks sign first-round pick Henri Jokiharju, looking to upgrade defense
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The Blackhawks added another name to the mix of defensemen who will be competing for a roster spot in training camp, signing 2017 first-round draft pick Henri Jokiharju to a three-year, entry-level contract. But with 10 days until the draft and 18 days until free agency, the Hawks are unlikely to stop there.
It’s the NHL’s silly season, with general managers kicking the tires on countless players around the league ahead of the usual draft-day trade frenzy. And Hawks GM Stan Bowman has been no exception as he looks to upgrade a blue line that is overloaded with third-pairing defensemen.
One target in particular Bowman has inquired about is the Hurricanes’ Justin Faulk, two league sources said. Faulk, a 26-year-old right-handed shot, could form an elite top pairing with Duncan Keith and would improve a power play that was the third-worst in the league last season. Faulk has two years left on his contract and carries a cap hit of $4.83 million.
Faulk wouldn’t come cheap, though. The Hurricanes, seeking to shake things up under new ownership and first-year coach Rod Brind’Amour, have their eye on Brandon Saad, one league source said. The theoretical deal — and it’s important to emphasize it’s all theoretical at this point — would be for more than just Faulk. The Athletic reported the Hawks are interested in bringing back goalie Scott Darling.
It’s unclear whether the Hawks even would entertain the idea of giving up on Saad just one season after reacquiring him from the Blue Jackets in the trade for Artemi Panarin. Saad is coming off the worst season of his career, but his underlying analytics were excellent, and the Hawks expect him to have a big bounce-back season.
‘‘Brandon actually did a lot of good things on the ice,’’ Bowman said in April. ‘‘His conversion rate was just really low this year. We look at that as kind of an anomaly. We think he’s going to get back to his normal production.’’
As for Jokiharju, Bowman and coach Joel Quenneville have said he’ll get every chance to prove he’s NHL-ready at camp, even though he doesn’t turn 19 until Sunday. He had 12 goals and 59 assists in 63 games with the Western Hockey League’s Portland Winterhawks and four two goals and two assists at the 2018 world juniors.
Because of his age, if Jokiharju is sent back to juniors, his entry-level contract will slide a year, meaning the Hawks won’t burn a year unless he plays at least 10 NHL games.
‘‘It’s difficult for young defensemen at that age in the NHL, but it’s not unheard of, so I wouldn’t rule anything out,’’ Bowman said. ‘‘But we’re also not counting on him being the difference-maker. We just want to see how he looks in training camp.’’