Portland Winterhawks notebook: Kurtis Smythe signs with Portland and Henri Jokiharju gets an NHL deal

On Monday the Winterhawks signed a second round Bantam pick from the 2016 draft. Because they have not had a second round pick of their own since the now aged-out Keoni Texeira was taken 26th overall in 2012, this pick had to come from elsewhere.

That place was Saskatoon as the Blades dealt the rights to the 5-foot-11, 165 pound defenseman back on May 3rd for the 70th pick in the 2018 draft. They used that on Charlie Wright a blue liner from Red Deer.

Kurtis Smythe (Cloverdale Reporter)

Smythe reportedly would not commit to playing in Saskatoon but has now signed with the Winterhawks.

In the press release Portland’s Vice President, General Manager and Head Coach Mike Johnston made it clear that he does not expect Smythe to play for Portland this season. “Next season he will play for former Winterhawk Spencer Bennett with the Delta Academy,” Johnston said.

That seems to make sense as Portland looks to lose three d-men going into the 2019-20 season with De Jong and Freadrich aging out and Henri Jokiharju being eligible to play as a 20-year-old in the AHL.

Smythe potted four goals and nine assists in 33 games with Delta in 2017-18 and had an assist in four playoff games. The Cloverdale, B.C. native should have an increased role on a team that will could lose 2000-born Kieran O’Hearn to the Trail Smoke Eaters of the BCHL. Ryan Watson is another 2002-born blue liner for Delta who has signed with a WHL team in the Medicine Hat Tigers. He is eligible to play in the WHL as a 16-year-old.

Smythe won the CSSBVHL in 2016 with the Delta Hockey Academy’s Bantam Varsity team.

2018-19 signed defensemen:

Left Defense Right Defense
Brendan De Jong (98)^ Henri Jokiharju (99)#
Matthew Quigley (99) Jared Freadrich (98)^
Clay Hanus (01) John Ludvig (00)
Nick Perna (01)* Nick Cicek (00)
Ryan Miley (00)* Kade Nolan (01)*
Kurtis Smythe (02)*

^=overage player

#=import player

*=has not played a regular season or playoff game in the WHL.

Jokiharju finally signs with the Chicago Blackhawks

Nearly a year after he was drafted 29th overall in the 2017 NHL draft, defenseman Henri Jokiharju signed a three-year entry level contract with the Chicago Blackhawks. Jojiharju, who was drafted 25th overall in the 2016 CHL Import draft had an immediate impact in the WHL as a rookie.

Jokiharju piled up 48 points as a 17-year-old rookie, gradually moving up the draft rankings until Chicago took him.

Then, this season Jokiharju was one of the best d-men in the league potting 71 points in 63 games and then putting up eight playoff points in 12 games. He was named a second-team Western Conference all star.

Henri Jokiharju (Dayna Fjord/Portland Winterhawks)

Jokiharju also played for the U-20 Finnish team at the World Junior Championships last winter. He scored two goals and added two assists for four points in five games.

While the contract was expected for some time, what this means for where he plays next year is still unknown. Earlier this summer Johnston told me that he did not believe Jokiharju could play in the AHL during his 19-year-old season.

That may turn out to be meaningless though as the Blackhawks are incredibly shallow in talent on the blue line and with a strong camp Jokiharju would likely start the year in the NHL.

Right now Chicago has seven d-men under contract for 2018-19. Brent Seabrook, Duncan Keith, Connor Murphy, Jan Rutta and Erik Gustafsson all played in the NHL last year with Gustafsson splitting time with the AHL’s Rockford Icehogs.

If the Blackhawks do not sign another d-man, there clearly is at least one spot open on the blue line that a top prospect like Jokiharju could earn.

Blake Hillman is also an option for the Blackhawks but the former University of Denver d-man only played four games with the big club last year and is AHL eligible.

Unless Chicago signs or trades for another proven NHL d-man, the Finnish blue liner looks to have a golden opportunity to achieve his dream. Keep in mind though that it is notably more difficult for a teenage defenseman to adjust to the NHL than it is for a forward.

Jokiharju was the last non-NCAA first round pick to sign with his NHL team. Of note, two first round picks that have yet to sign with their NHL teams have their WHL rights owned by the Winterhawks. Boston University goalie and Dallas Stars pick Jake Oettinger and Montreal Canadiens pick and St. Cloud State forward Ryan Poehling would be ineligible to continue playing in the NCAA if they were signed by their NHL teams.

 

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