Blackhawks

Blackhawks’ Connor Murphy out 8 weeks; what does it mean for Henri Jokiharju?

The door to the NHL might have just opened for Blackhawks prospect Henri Jokiharju.

The Hawks’ defense suffered a blow Friday morning before training camp even started when the team announced that defenseman Connor Murphy will be out eight weeks with a back injury. Also, defenseman Brent Seabrook will be sidelined for one week with an abdominal injury.

With Murphy unavailable into the season, the Hawks will need to add depth to their right side. That’s where Jokiharju, a right-handed defenseman, could come in.

Jokiharju, a first-round draft pick in 2017, has said he hopes to follow in the footsteps of forward Alex DeBrincat. Last season, DeBrincat broke camp with the Hawks at 19.

Chicago Blackhawks defenseman Connor Murphy (5) in the third period of an NHL hockey game Friday, March 30, 2018, in Denver. The Avalanche won 5-0. |
David Zalubowski/Associated Press

Jokiharju, also 19, was one of the top defensemen in the Western Hockey League last season, when he totaled 12 goals and 71 points.

But coach Joel Quenneville has reservations about a defenseman making the jump to the NHL at such a young age.

“It’s a tough position to come in as a young player because there’s so many different situations to read, to feel,” Quenneville said. “There’s a lot that plays into what gets comfortable in young players.

“I think he’s made great progress over the last year. Let’s see how he develops in training camp. But strength and decision-making at a young age is the test that you have to find out soon and see how he handles it in camp and then after we see we’ll make that decision. … He’s the one guy that might be a little closer than anybody right now.”

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Jokiharju said he focused on his speed and quick decision-making with the puck during summer training.

Another issue for Jokiharju is the money the Hawks have tied up in several veteran defensemen.

The Hawks added free-agent Brandon Manning on a two-year contract and re-signed defensemen Jan Rutta and Erik Gustafsson. Manning, Rutta and Gustafsson combine for $5.75 million of cap space.

The Hawks also offered defenseman Brandon Davidson, who has four seasons of NHL experience, a professional tryout.

Quenneville paired Jokiharju with Duncan Keith at the first training-camp practice Friday.

Chemistry class

Right wing Patrick Kane still was feeling the pain one day after the Hawks underwent physical testing.

“It’s never fun that day,” Kane joked. “A lot of us agree it’s the worst day of the year, doing that physical testing.”

But now that it’s over, Kane couldn’t be more excited to focus on hockey, especially with the line he was on in practice.

Kane skated and went through drills with center Nick Schmaltz and left wing Brandon Saad. Although it’s early, he liked the chemistry he felt with them.

“Very excited about it,” Kane said. “From skating with Saader this summer and seeing where his game is at, I think he’s going to have a really big year. Schmaltz is a guy for me to develop that chemistry with and develop the east-west game, look for each other for one-timers, things like that.”

Quenneville liked it, too.

“It’s as exciting as any line may be in the league,” he said.

New injury reports

The Hawks will release more specific injury reports rather than their previous vague reports with the descriptions upper- and lower-body injuries.