Normally preseason hockey is not that interesting for Blackhawks fans. It’s a chance to see some of the younger kids in the system attempt to make their marks against other National Hockey League players before getting sent to their respective leagues. However, this year is drastically different for the Blackhawks.
The team’s defense, already skeptical at best, was dealt a significant blow, as both Gustav Forsling and Connor Murphy are going to be out for extended periods of time. Forsling, a left-handed defenseman, and Murphy, a right-handed shot, were both expected to play bigger roles, but they are going to be without those two for weeks.
However, the injury news isn’t as bad as everyone claims. It has left an opening for Henri Jokiharju, the Blackhawks first-round draft pick in 2017, to step into a starting role. Following the Blackhawks preseason game against the Columbus Blue Jackets, in which Jokiharju played just over 23 minutes, Quenneville raved about him.
“I thought he was very good. He’s got a lot of poise for a young defenseman (and) he’s got a lot of confidence with the puck. He’s got high-end play recognition. He’s got a tremendous shot. And all that other stuff as far as learning how you play certain situations and how to play against bigger guys or in tighter areas, and knowing how to defend in those types of situations, it’s all a work in progress. But in a one-game audition, it was excellent.”
In practice, Jokiharju has been opening eyes. Take a look at this battle between him and Victor Ejdsell. Keep in mind, Ejdsell is significantly bigger than Jokiharju, but he’s struggling to gain an inch. Considering that Blackhawks coaches and personnel have been raving about Ejdsell since he came over in the Ryan Hartman trade, this is an interesting sight.
Jokiharju vs. Ejdsell pic.twitter.com/J37HMoYYCU
— Scott Powers (@ByScottPowers) September 19, 2018
It wasn’t always certain that Jokiharju would make the roster. However, with the injury to Murphy, it’s assured that he will be making the team, and most likely starting for the Blackhawks on opening night. That would be exciting enough, but Chicago might be starting two teenagers in their opening night lineup.
In addition to Jokiharju, who is 19, Adam Boqvist, whom the team selected with the 8th overall pick in the 2018 draft and just turned 18, might have played himself into a starting role. Despite the fact that even Boqvist himself admitted he was two or three years away from the NHL, his play in training camp and the first couple of preseason games forced Coach Quenneville to keep him around. Plays like this, against one of the fastest skaters in the league, prove why the team is so excited.
— Chicago Blackhawks (@NHLBlackhawks) September 20, 2018
Boqvist was set to travel to the London Knights of the Ontario Hockey League, but after Thursday’s preseason game at Detroit, Qunneville spoke to reporters and shocked damn near everyone with his statements. When asked if Boqvist had a shot of making the opening night roster, he said, “I’m not throwing that out of the realm of possibilities.”
First of all, for any young player to immediately impress Quenneville like that is stunning. He has had a knack of not trusting some of the younger players on the Blackhawks. Secondly, there are some contract details to mention that could be beneficial to the Blackhawks as well. Boqvist can play in up to nine games this year for Chicago before the first year of his contract takes affect. The Blackhawks have done this before, most recently with Ryan Hartman.
So, it’s not out of the question to suggest that the Blackhawks might open camp with their top two defensive prospects. At least for nine games. It’s very hard to see the Blackhawks doing anything more than that, especially considering Jokiharju is already going to be starting for the team.
Are the Blackhawks really going to break in both of these teenagers at the same time? It’s incredibly unlikely. As for Boqvist, you don’t exactly want to see the team waste a year of his contract on a season in which he could have developed further and come back when he is 100% ready.
Make no mistake, come opening night, Blackhawks fans could have a glimpse of the future. Their top two defensive prospects might be set to make their NHL debuts. Without a doubt, it’s a little exciting to be a Blackhawks fan, despite all the turmoil. The future is here…at least for nine games.