The Journey: Fast-Rising Prospect Defensemen – October 2018
This week, I’m taking a closer look at three prospects who were big risers on Dobber’s latest Top 50 Fantasy Prospect Defensemen list. Who are they and why are they on the rise? Read further to find out.
Henri Jokiharju – Chicago Blackhawks – up to 5 from 12
Jokiharju jumped from Finland to the Portland Winterhawks in the WHL for his draft year. He scored nine goals and 48 points in 71 games during his rookie season. That was good enough for the Blackhawks to draft him 29th overall in 2017.
Jokiharju returned to the WHL for a second year and his numbers exploded. 12 goals and 71 points in 63 games. He also added another eight points in 12 playoff games. There was nothing more for him in the junior circuit, and it was time to find a better quality of competition. There was strong belief he might go to Europe to find that.
But a preseason injury to Connor Murphy opened the door for Jokiharju to crack the Blackhawks’ roster, and he seized the opportunity. So far, he’s played 10 games and collected six assists in them. All six points have come at even strength. He’s also fired 28 shots on goal, so it’s only a matter of time before he gets his first NHL goal.
Jokiharju has been playing more than 20 minutes per game. His average power play time is only around one minute per game. For a few games, he saw significant time on the man advantage. But lately, he’s been taken off the power play entirely. And that’s weird because they have no one better than him. So his usage hasn’t been optimal yet but I’m confident it will get better later this season.
Rising seven spots on Dobber’s list may not seem like much. But making the jump to the top five puts him in elite territory. These guys are the best of the best when it comes to prospects. And that’s why I wanted to highlight Jokiharju’s rise even though it was “only” seven spots.
Dennis Cholowski – Detroit Red Wings – up to 11 from 66
Cholowski spent his draft year at the BCHL where he scored 12 goals and 40 points in 50 points. Those are big numbers for a defenseman but it’s not a high-end league, so it was a bit surprising the Red Wings drafted him 20th overall in 2016.
The following year, Cholowski jumped to college hockey. He played 36 games for the St. Cloud State University and scored 12 points. Decent production but not enough to silence the critics who questioned his selection. Cholowski cut his college career short after a year and signed a contract with the Red Wings.
Cholowski was eligible to play in the AHL but the Red Wings sent him to the WHL for further development. Cholowski split the season between Prince George Cougars and Portland Winterhawks. And this time, he started to show offensive upside again. He finished the season with 14 goals and 66 points in 69 games. He also had a good playoff run where he scored seven points in 12 games.
Cholowski was clearly ready to turn pro at this point. Most people expected him to spend a year or two in the AHL and then push for a job at the NHL level. But Detroit’s blue line was decimated with injuries, and Cholowski impressed when given the chance.
And he hasn’t just played in the NHL, he’s been great so far. Two goals, five points and 18 shots on goal in seven games are great. So is the fact that he’s played over 22 minutes per game. He’s played on both special teams. He’s seen less than a minute on the penalty kill but almost three minutes on the power play.
But there’s one red flag. Four out of five of Cholowski’s points have come on the power play. The Red Wings are not a good team right now, and relying on such a dominant power play production is not a way to success.
Cholowski wasn’t expected to become more than a number four defenseman at the NHL level. But this strong start to his career has scouts wondering if maybe he could end up being a number two guy. That remains to be seen but at least he’s giving Detroit fans some hope. And honestly, hope is all they have right now.
Maxime Lajoie – Ottawa Senators – up to 42 from NR
Lajoie played his rookie season in the WHL as a 17-year-old. It was a very impressive season with seven goals and 40 points in 72 games. He then added three points in four playoff games. But because of his late birthday, he wasn’t eligible for the draft yet.
The following year, his production didn’t really improve. Eight goals and 37 points in 62 games. Good numbers but it’s always alarming when a prospect doesn’t take a step forward as an 18-year-old. Lajoie slipped all the way to the fifth round in the 2016 NHL Entry Draft, and the Senators took him 133rd overall.
Lajoie returned to the WHL for his third and final year. And once again, his numbers didn’t change much. Seven goals and 42 points in 68 games. Three years in a row with similar numbers. That’s not usually a recipe for success.
Last year, Lajoie turned pro. He scored one goal and 15 points in 56 games in the AHL. He also played one game in the ECHL. Modest production, nothing to write home about. Right?
Well, to the surprise of everyone, Lajoie started this season in the NHL. And so far, his production has been better than anywhere before this. Four goals, seven points and 23 shots on goal in eight games. He’s played over 20 minutes per game with about two minutes on both special teams. Four of his seven points have come on the power play.
Thomas Chabot is the player you want to own from Ottawa’s blue line but Lajoie has shown he’s capable of playing second fiddle. There’s reason to believe Lajoie can be a good NHL player. But he needs to establish himself quickly because the Senators drafted two very good prospect defensemen in the top 50 this past summer.
And that’s all for now, thanks for reading. Feel free to add comments below. Remember to follow me on Twitter @JokkeNevalainen.
Previously on The Journey:
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