Blackhawks defenseman Henri Jokiharju has been one of the NHL’s top rookies. But his season took a slight detour Friday night.
Jokiharju was a surprising healthy scratch against the Lightning and it’s not because he needed a breather. Hawks coach Jeremy Colliton said he needs him to be better.
“Certainly had a fantastic start,” Colliton said. “We want to get him back to that level as quickly as we can. I’m sure he’s not loving coming out of the lineup, and that’s fine. That goes along with getting feedback from us as far as what he has to do to get playing his best again.
“It’s no problem. He’s a young player and almost everyone goes through it. He’ll be good for us going forward I’m sure.”
Jokiharju, 19, wasn’t a certainty to make the Hawks out of training camp but when Connor Murphy went down with a back injury it opened an opportunity for him. He immediately started playing important minutes under coach Joel Quenneville and that continued when Colliton took over.
Over the last three games, Jokiharju has played no more than 18 minutes, 32 seconds and in Wednesday night's game against the Capitals he was down to 17:22. He still leads Hawks defensemen with 10 assists.
“He has more to give us but certainly we really believe in him,” Colliton said. “He can be a big part of what we’re doing here but (sitting out) tonight can be a part of that.”
Brandon Manning took Jokiharju’s spot in the lineup. Forwards Chris Kunitz and Luke Johnson were back in replacing John Hayden and Andreas Martinsen.
The right mix: Jokiharju and Duncan Keith were a pairing for the first 17 games of the season, and Colliton left them together his first two games as coach. He then split them up, putting Jokiharj and Erik Gustafsson together and pairing up Keith and Brent Seabrook.
“We’re still sorting out who’s going to be the best fit with who,” Colliton said. “That’s part of, when we rotate the lineup like we are, we’re kind of searching for that right mix and it’s going to take time.”