When you think about the players at the forefront of the revolution currently taking NHL blue lines by storm, it’s speed, intelligence and a strong first pass as the common thread between them. Portland Winterhawks defenceman Henri Jokiharju carries these attributes in spades.
The Finnish transitional defenceman joined the Winterhawks as a first round, 25th overall CHL Import Draft selection, and played in a secondary role with Keoni Texeira as his most frequent partner. It took Jokiharju a while to hit his stride, but when he did, he was as smooth skating and effective a defenceman in transition as almost any defender in his class.
I don’t see Jokiharju as carrying top of the lineup upside, but his ability to read the game and skate the puck out of trouble gives him a significantly higher floor than most defencemen. That’s why he checks in as the 29th ranked prospect in the Nations Network countdown, cracking the first round, if only by a hair.
- Age: 17-years-old, 1999-06-17
- Birthplace: Oulu, Finland
- Position: D
- Handedness: R
- Height: 6’0″
- Weight: 170 lbs
- Draft Year Team: Portland Winterhawks – OHL
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A smart, shifty and skilled two-way rearguard…plays a steady game with a high end skillset…confidence with the puck and is a creative playmaker…skates well with solid speed and agility…strong transitional footwork…great panic threshold and withstands pressure by outmaneuvering opponents and digging his feet in withstand physical pressure…moves quick and decisively…has vision to hit his pass up ice with consistency, handling the puck well…not overly aggressive on the offensive line but assesses risk and will jump in to keep pucks alive or enter the zone to lead a rush…shoots the puck effectively; not breaking velocity records but generating rebounds with his accurate wrist shot and consistently connecting on the one timer…needs some strength as he can get outmuscled…one of those guys who seemingly never comes off the ice…has the potential to be a high end, pace controlling defender at the next level. (November 2016)
Jokiharju started off a little slow as he adjusted to hockey life in North America, but he made the transition and was very good in Portland as a WHL rookie. I’ve always been impressed by his skill set and think he has significant NHL upside. He’s a great skater and one of the more mobile defenders available in this class. He’s a smart, two-way defenseman who can dictate tempo and move the puck efficiently. I don’t think his skill is top-end level, but he’s going to be able to rack up a lot of points thanks to his vision, feet and decision-making. Despite not being a big guy, Jokiharju is quite effective defensively because he’s very smart with his positional play.
Henri Jokiharju is another in a line of excellent Finnish defencemen available in the 2017 NHL Draft. After helping Finland win the 2016 Under 18 World Championships, as an underager, Jokiharju decided that he would leave his club team Tappara in Finland, and play his draft season in North America. He was drafted 25th overall in the CHL Import Draft and joined the Portland Winterhawks. Jokiharju had an excellent first season in the WHL, putting up nine goals and 48 points in 71 games. He also added three assists in 11 playoff games.
In addition to his work at the 2016 Under 18s, Jokiharju also represented Finland at this summer’s Ivan Hlinka Tournament and at the 2015-16 Under-17 World Hockey Challenge.
Jokiharju comes from good bloodlines. His father, Juha Jokiharju was a right wing who played in the Finnish SM-Liiga throughout the late 1980s and most of the 1990s.
Finding an archetype to describe Jokiharju’s style of play was difficult. He’s not an offensive dynamo, but he’s not your run of the mill defensive defenceman either. Jokiharju’s game lends itself well to the entire sheet of ice but is most noticeable in the neutral zone. Like I said earlier — a transitional defenceman.
I’m most impressed by Jokiharju’s skating. He accelerates quickly out of a standstill and has great agility as a puck carrier. His edgework is fantastic. A skater who just makes it all look so effortless.
Jokiharju isn’t going to shy away from the odd end-to-end rush, and whether they lead to a goal or not, they almost always make it to the offensive zone. He’s creating an environment for sustained offence, even if his point production isn’t gaudy enough to reflect that at first glance. At the very least, he’s putting his team in a position where they don’t have to defend.
Another of Jokiharju’s many desirable assets is his intelligence. Whether it’s being in the right spot in the defensive zone or knowing when he should or should not pinch to maintain offensive possession, it’s rare that he doesn’t make the right read.
I don’t see a player who’s going to rack up points annually. Jokiharju probably has it in him to one day patrol the blue line on a second unit. That I can see happening. I’m less convinced of his ability to be a key contributor offensively.
Jokiharju’s shot isn’t terrible, but it’s not a strength of his either. He’s perhaps a touch conservative about using it, too. He’s more a setup than trigger-man offensively, almost to a fault.
When we view Jokiharju’s draft season through the pGPS lens, he looks like a defender worth of a first round selection. About 35% of his 111 matches developed into full-time NHL defencemen, and they carry an expected points per 82 games of 27.2.
When we check out Jokiharju’s career assignment through pGPS, his most expected outcome is that of a second pair defenceman. That about lines up with my assessment of Jokiharju’s abilities. It also aligns with our consensus ranking of Jokiharju as the 29th best player in this class. Find a second pair defenceman in that range, and you’re laughing all the way to the bank.