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Jokiharju had a solid first season in the WHL
least one Blackhawks prospect has gone from being unsigned to playing in the NHL the following season each of the past two years.
Nick Schmaltz was that player last season. Alex DeBrincat is this season. Who’s next?
This season’s crop of unsigned prospects isn’t as plentiful as last season’s, but there are still a number of interesting players. Here’s a look at the five most intriguing players based on their play this season.
1. Dylan Sikura, forward, Northeastern NCAA , sixth round 2014
Overview Everyone should know Dylan Sikura’s story by now. Over the past four years, he’s gone from a sixth round sleeper to one of the Blackhawks’ premier prospects. As good as DeBrincat has been this season, Sikura outplayed him and was the most impressive player at Blackhawks prospect camp in July. Sikura is a different player than DeBrincat and creates more on his own. He has a strong blend of speed, puck handling ability, vision and creativity. Read this for more on Sikura.
This season Sikura has lived up to the hype. Aside from missing a few games due to injury, he’s had close to a perfect season. He has seven goals and nine assists in 11 games and has produced a point in eight games, including five multi point games. He’s also drawn attention from Team Canada and could be included on its Olympic roster. Northeastern looks like an NCAA tournament team and is ranked No. 12 in the poll.
Bigger picture The Blackhawks desperately want to sign the 22 year old Sikura after his season ends. They’ve had a representative at nearly all of his games, but they’re also trying to give him room. Blackhawks general manager Stan Bowman has said he envisions signing Sikura to be like a trade deadline acquisition. Regardless of how the Blackhawks are playing come March, they’ll find a roster spot for Sikura if he signs. He’s too important to their future not to.
2. Henri Jokiharju, defenseman, Portland Winterhawks WHL , first round 2017
Overview The Blackhawks drafted Jokiharju with the No. 29 overall pick this past June, making him the first defenseman­ selected by Chicago in the first round since 2009. Jokiharju is a right handed, puck moving defenseman. He is from Finland but decided to come over to North America last season and play in the WHL. We wrote this about him prior to the draft.
This season Jokiharju had a solid first season in the WHL, but he’s taken his game up a notch this season with seven goals, 28 assists and 83 shots on net in 25 games. He’s produced a point in 19 games and has 12 multi point games. Jokiharju ranks second in the WHL among defensemen with 35 points, 19 of which have come on the power play. At 20 4 1, the Winterhawks are one of the best teams in the WHL. Jokiharju is expected to play for Finland in the World Juniors next month.
Bigger picture The Blackhawks would like Jokiharju to be a top four NHL defenseman in the future. He’ll likely sign an entry level deal prior to next season, but he’ll probably still return to the WHL for another season due to his age. He’s 18, and his birthday isn’t until June. He won’t turn 20 until 2019, meaning he can only play in the NHL, not the AHL, next season.

Ivan Nalimov is second in the KHL in save percentage this season. Artyom KorotayevTASS via Getty Images
3. Ivan Nalimov, goalie, Admiral KHL , sixth round 2014
Overview Like a lot of teams, the Blackhawks have taken a chance on a number of goalies with late draft picks. One of those goalies is Nalimov, whom the Blackhawks selected out of Russia in the sixth round in 2014. He’s been a starting goalie in the KHL since the 2014 15 season but has had a lot of ups and downs and didn’t really show any true promise until recently. Here’s some more background on Nalimov.
This season Nalimov is certainly the most surprising Blackhawks prospect this season. He looked like he was playing himself out of the KHL early in the season, but he sat for nearly a month and then returned playing the best hockey of his career. He’s arguably one of the hottest goalies in the world right now. In his past seven starts, Nalimov has made 259 saves on 266 shots for a .974 save percentage. He’s second in the KHL with a .943 save percentage.
Bigger picture The Blackhawks brought Nalimov to North America for a short period during training camp last season. Nalimov struggled upon his return to the KHL, and it seemed as if we might be done hearing about him. But now with his recent play, he s intriguing once again. The Blackhawks probably need to see him play well this season and next before talking about a contract. Nalimov is still just 23 years old, so he and the Blackhawks have time. Look for a Q A with Nalimov coming soon.
4. Chad Krys, defenseman, Boston NCAA , second round 2016
Overview The Blackhawks took three players in the second round in 2016 — DeBrincat, Krys and Artur Kayumov. DeBrincat is already in the NHL. Kayumov is looking like a long term project. Krys is probably somewhere in between. He’s a left handed offensive defenseman who skates especially well and can move the puck.
This season Krys had a slow start to his freshman season but finished strong. He’s been more consistent so far as a sophomore. He has three goals and 10 assists in 15 games and is tied for seventh in the country among defensemen with 13 points. Krys is expected to play for the U.S. at the World Juniors.
Bigger picture The Blackhawks had a lot of young and talented defensemen at their prospect camp, and Krys looked like the best one. He made things happen offensively throughout the camp. Krys is just 19, and the Blackhawks would probably like the sophomore to play one more year at Boston before turning pro. But if Krys has other ideas and wants to turn pro after this season, the Blackhawks will likely oblige. Chicago has an assortment of left handed shots already in the organization, so it may take some time before Krys sees the NHL.
5. Max Shalunov, forward, CSKA KHL , fourth round 2011
Overview The Blackhawks drafted Shalunov back in 2011, but they retain his rights because of the no transfer agreement between the KHL and NHL. Shalunov gave North America a try during the 2013 14 season and had some success in the ECHL while struggling in the AHL. He returned to Russia and has developed into a top offensive player. At 6 foot 4, he has the size to go along with a big shot. We wrote about him plenty last season.
This season Shalunov decided to remain in the KHL after last season and was traded to CSKA, one of the league’s top teams. Surrounded by more talent there, he has nine goals and 12 assists in 26 games. He’s 22nd in the KHL with 0.81 points per game minimum 10 games . He missed a few games due to injury.
Bigger picture Shalunov and the Blackhawks both say they’d still like for him to play in the NHL one day. There were some discussions about him signing last season, but they fell through. He has a three year deal with CSKA now, but you never know with KHL deals. He turns 25 in January, so he’s not going to be young whenever he does come over.
Honorable mention
Lucas Carlsson, defenseman Carlsson, 20, had a breakout year in the SHL last season. He’s continued to play a big role for Brynas. He’s second among the team’s defensemen averaging 18 54 of ice time and has four goals and two assists in 20 games.
Dennis Gilbert, defenseman Gilbert, 21 , continues to play a key defensive role as a junior for Notre Dame. The Irish are ranked No. 4 in the country and are 12 3 1.
Blake Hillman, defenseman Hillman, 21, is one of the reasons Denver won the Jordan Oesterle Jersey national championship last season and is ranked No. 1 this season. The junior is more a defensive defenseman.
Ian Mitchell, defenseman Mitchell, 18, was drafted in the second round this past year and is another right handed defenseman with offensive skill. As a freshman at Denver, he’s tied for second among college hockey defensemen with 11 assists. He’s registered 10 assists on the power play.
Freddy Olofsson, forward Olofsson, 21, has produced nearly a point per game during his junior season at Omaha. He has two goals and seven assists in 12 games.
Ryan Shea, defenseman Shea, 20, has made progress as a sophomore at Northeastern. He has one goal and eight assists in 13 games.
Joni Tuulola, defenseman Tuulola, 21, has had his best pro season in Finland after changing teams in the offseason. He has three goals and 12 assists in 27 games. He’s fifth among defensemen in points in Finland’s Liiga and is averaging 24 04 of ice time.
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