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Blackhawks rookie D Henri Jokiharju squeezed out of ice time

Henri Jokiharju hasn't proven himself NHL-ready to coach Jeremy Colliton. | Matt Marton/AP

BUFFALO, N.Y. — The Blackhawks still have big plans for rookie defenseman Henri Jokiharju, but those are on hold.

The team reassigned Jokiharju to Rockford this morning as coach Jeremy Colliton tried to manage a surplus at his position. The Hawks had seven defensemen and are likely to activate Gustav Forsling from Injured Reserve on Friday.

Colliton envisions Jokiharju being a top-line player and a factor on power plays, but he was going to have a challenge earning the right to be active, let alone getting opportunities like that.

“We want him playing more,” Colliton said after today’s practice at KeyBank Center. “We love him. It doesn’t change how we feel about him. That’s what I told him this morning.

“We believe in him and think he’s going to be a big part of when we get this thing going the right way. He’s a big piece of the puzzle. But we also think for him to continue growing his game, the best place is Rockford.”

Jokiharju, 19, was the team’s first-round pick in 2017 and hasn’t established himself yet. He played 37 of a possible 51 games this season, and the Hawks loaned him to the Finnish national team for the recent World Juniors.

Colliton said there were several reasons why Jokiharju’s status among the defensemen has slipped. The Hawks were missing Forsling and Connor Murphy in the first half because of injuries, and Carl Dahlstrom has emerged as one of his most trusted players.

Colliton also doesn’t think Jokiharju (6-0, 193 pounds) is ready for the physical demands of playing defense in the NHL because of his age.

“Obviously he doesn’t have the man body yet, but he will,” Colliton said. “We want him to not just be playing to survive out there; we want him to be playing to excel and be a top player.

“So we want him to go down [to Rockford] and tight gap and defend hard, get out of D-zone. He’s gonna make plays. We’re not worried about that. And he’s gonna get a chance on the power play, and we think that’s for the best.”