Buffalo Sabres Top 20 Under 24 Prospect Rankings, #2: Henri Jokiharju
<em>Future looks bright for 21-year-old defenseman</em>
The Top 20 Under 24 is a collaboration by members of the Die By The Blade community. It was a combination of five staff writers and over 300 readers that ranked prospects under the age of 24 and have played less than 125 NHL games.
It is hard to believe that Henri Jokiharju is still as young as he is. It is also worth mentioning that he is one of the few members of the Sabres roster moving in the right direction and actually worth talking about (given the circumstances of these last few underwhelming years of hockey and what fans have been forced to watch, that says a lot). Arguably, he may be the best defender on the team after Rasmus Dahlin. Personally, I voted him #1 in this top 20 ranking.
While he has plenty to work on defensively, his pluses certainly outweighed his minuses during the 2019-2020 season - which seems eons ago thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic and the Sabres missing the playoffs for the 9th consecutive year.
Jokiharju had plenty of shot contributions in the offensive zone and averaged over one SOG per game. And as our beloved Rick Jeanneret would say, he “dipsy doodles” his way through the neutral zone with speed, poise, and has the ability to make himself available at the perfect time.
Before making a name for himself in the NHL, the Finnish defenseman played for the Portland Winterhawks in the Western Hockey League in 2016. During his tenure there, he tallied 48 points in 79 games. From there, he was drafted by the Blackhawks the following year and in 2019 made history at the World Junior Championships where he took home the gold medal.
Following Buffalo’s acquisition of Jokiharju in exchange for Alexander Nylander in 2019, he completed his first full NHL season - albeit a shortened one - having impressed both his teammates and fans. He averaged over 17 minutes of ice time per game, playing the most with Marco Scandella before Scandella’s trade to the Canadiens. And, while he sometimes struggled defensively, he did not make a lot of rookie mistakes. If he continues on this path, he is bound to remain in the top four if not the top two defensive pairings on the team. Dahlin and Jokiharju together have a nice ring to it, eh?