There were a lot of breakout rookie defencemen in 2018-19 and one of them was most definitely Henri Jokiharju. It wasn’t a great fantasy season by any stretch, seeing he played just 38 games in the NHL and spent half the season in the AHL, most of that after the World Juniors. Nonetheless, he had put up very good underlying numbers and that, more than goals and assists, is important for a 19-year old defenceman.
Chicago felt they needed more talent up front so they completed a trade with Buffalo sending Jokiharju to the Sabres in exchange for Alex Nylander.
What the Blackhawks get
I’ll just say it: I don’t get the hype Nylander apparently still has. He was drafted three years ago and has done nothing at any level. We’ll let his rookie AHL season go because of his age, but in the subsequent two years, he has 20 goals and 58 points in 100 games. Even when reading the updates for Nylander over at Dobber Prospects (profile here), I see updates from the last 16 months ranging from “lacklustre season” to “hasn’t exactly… made noticeable improvements to his game.” So when I see a lack of production on the surface and, let’s say, less-than-endearing comments from those actually watching prospects regularly, it doesn’t really breed much confidence.
One user on Twitter made a comment that makes sense to me: the team is likely emboldened by how things turned out with Dylan Strome. (There’s going to be serious regression there but that’s another topic for another day.) That they’re betting they can turn around another top-10 pick from a few years prior (again, we really need to go over Strome’s season) makes this trade make sense. That, of course, overlooks that Strome was over a point-per-game in the AHL in his age-20 season while Nylander had 31 points in 49 games, but I digress.
Where Nylander would slot with the Blackhawks – assuming he can actually stick in the NHL – is a bit up in the air. Obviously, Patrick Kane is still the go-to right winger but they added Andrew Shaw already this offseason, and there are other lesser guys like Brendan Perlini to consider. Should they decide to play him at centre, he’ll be, at best, the third-line centre. In other words, I’m not sure there’s much fantasy value in 2019-20. This season will be about proving he belongs in the NHL, let alone has fantasy relevance.
What the Sabres get
As mentioned, Jokiharju was impressive to me this year. I wrote about him in November and a couple more times over the season. Like with most 19-year old defencemen, there were some issues, but the season in totality seemed solid. Let’s go through his performance.
- His exit percentage, or the rate his zone exits were completed with possession, was in the 80th percentile.
- His shot contributions, shot assists (passes that turn into shots) added to his own individual shots, was also in the 80th percentile.
- His ability to drive both expected goals and shot attempts for the Blackhawks were above average.
There were issues; one of my Ramblings on Jokiharju covered his defensive woes. But with that said, he was a 19-year old rookie defenceman on an atrocious defensive team. Offensively, he did a lot of things that we like to see from a puck-moving rearguards. Even just watching him, it’s easy to tell that he’s always looking for teammates, looking for alternative plays, or looking to just start the play himself. He appears every bit the part of a future top-4 puck-moving defenceman. Heck, I bet that’s exactly what he is within two years.
Jokiharju’s problem is there is a glut of right-handed defencemen now in Buffalo. There is Rasmus Ristolainen, Zach Bogosian, Brandon Montour, Colin Miller, and now the young Finn, among others. It seems certain that one of them will be moved but even then, there would still be three right-handed defencemen left behind. If he’s even in the NHL in 2019-20, it’ll be on the third pair. For now, this is a hit to his fantasy prospects because there are so many people ahead of him. We could very well see a Dahlin-Jokiharju top pair down the road, but in the near-term, it’s hard to see him having much fantasy relevance.
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Who this hurts
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