As we continue with this mini-half-season-review, when you have a lost season on your hands the main thing you want to do is find hope for the future. That means what are your young players doing, and what does it look like they’ll be doing when the games might matter again, if anything.
The main one for this season, or at least the most intriguing, is Henri Jokiharju. He’s not here right now because the Hawks couldn’t count and have an even harder time scouting their own talent, but we’ll leave that aside for now. Quick were the masses to heap praise on The HarJu, I assume for not shitting himself in public. I’m more tempted to give him an incomplete. That’s not to say I think he’s been bad or needs to go to Rockford or something, because I don’t. But there needs to be more and some major steps taken.
Jokiharju has been given some tough obstacles to start his NHL career. He’s on a team flailing in the wind most nights. He was put with a partner who simply refused to adjust his own game to help the rookie’s, meaning Jokiharju is cleaning up a lot of messes that he’s just not physically ready for (strangely, Keith has been content to let Erik Gustafsson play the cowboy and be the free safety for him). And the goalies haven’t bailed him out as much as you’d hope, which can only put him more on edge. He’s had to learn two different defensive systems in the first few months of his pro career.
So partly because of all that, we’ve seen very little of the offensive game we know the Finn has. In brief flashes, we’ve seen an ability to get a shot through traffic and a keen passing eye. There is a calmness with the puck at times that belies his age. When given the chance, he does make a solid first pass, and really should be given license to do that more often with passes that go out of the zone instead of just shuffling it up to a covered forward on the boards. But there hasn’t been enough of it yet.
Jokiharju also doesn’t seem to have game-breaking speed, like future teammate Adam Boqvist already possesses. He’s not slow, but he’s not getting away from anyone yet either. Again, some of this is due to the complicated situations he finds himself in, but that’s going to have to improve a touch. He gets snowed under a lot. He needs time with Paul Goodman and a squat rack. And he probably needs a new partner when he returns from the WJC.
I don’t know if we should even include Alex DeBrincat on this list anymore, given what we already know about him. Still, it’s always fun to point out that in a preseason “Scouts’ Take” piece by The Athletic’s Scott Powers, one said Top Cat would never be more than a 25-goal guy. He’s currently on pace for a 34-32-66 season, and that’s with a fair amount of time playing on a third line. If he ever gets full-time, top-six minutes, there’s no telling where this could go.
We didn’t know we’d be writing about Dylan Strome when the season started, but it is a strange old world, indeed. Strome has looked sluggish at times, but not nearly the drunken sloth the Coyotes tried to paint him out to be after giving up on him just 50 games into his NHL career. He’s been more scorer than playmaker during his time here, but that can happen when Patrick Kane is doing most of the latter. That still portends to good things when Strome is getting to the areas to score, whatever the labels of his skating. He’s helped make the power play look competent, not only by playing the role of “Annette Frontpresence,” but being able to do more than just be an obelisk there and rotating to other spots, even the point. The hope in the back half of the season is that he’ll show more of the vision that got him taken 3rd overall in the first place. If that happens, the Hawks might have a gem on their hands here.
Dominik Kahun has spent a majority of the season on the top line, which he can’t possibly have dreamed of ever happening. He hasn’t looked totally out of place there, but it’s clear his NHL future is of a bottom-six weapon. Which is a good thing to have around, of course. He’s got some skill, and instinct at both ends. You could see him being a poor man’s Michael Frolik one day, though with slightly better finish, we can hope. He’s not a team-changer, but he looks to be a nice complimentary piece. You could envision him and David Kampf combining one day soon to be a hell of a third line.
Dylan Sikura has only been up for eight games so far, but I’ll admit to being pleasantly surprised. We basically wrote him off when he didn’t make the team out of camp after all the pub the team gave him, and last year’s quick stint didn’t show much either. He’s gotten the sweetheart shifts on a third line, but hey, that’s ok at this point. Though he hasn’t scratched goal-wise yet, his metrics are very clean-looking and he’s shown the confidence to show some dash to his game at points. Having Top Cat on the other side for most of his stay certainly didn’t hurt. Don’t know if he’s a piece yet or not, but he’s certainly earned a “Want To See More Of” label in his second go-round in the big time.
Those are the ones worth talking about.