Blackhawks Acquire Nylander From Sabres for Jokiharju

The Chicago Blackhawks have acquired forward Alex Nylander from the Buffalo Sabres in exchange for defender Henri Jokiharju, the Blackhawks announced Tuesday.

Both Nylander and Jokiharju were first-round selections in their respective draft classes with Nylander going eighth-overall to the Sabres in 2016 and Jokiharju going 29th overall the following Draft in 2017.

For both teams, this feels like a reset of sorts. It isn’t the first time the Blackhawks have done this either as they acquired Brendan Perlini and Dylan Strome from the Arizona Coyotes in exchange for Nick Schmaltz just last season. The deal paid off early for the Blackhawks as Strome would finally reach his potential in Chicago after stifling in Arizona.

The third-overall pick from 2015 would score only seven goals and 15 points in 48 games in Arizona over three seasons before scoring 17 goals and 51 points in just 58 games with the Blackhawks to close out the 2018-19 season.

Jack Johnson Alexander Nylander
Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman Jack Johnson pressures Buffalo Sabres right wing Alexander Nylander (Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports)

This deal feels similar on paper as Nylander, though still only 21 years old, has failed to create an impact at the AHL and NHL levels. In 19 total NHL games across three seasons, Nylander has only scored three goals and six points. He’s also only scored 30 goals and 86 points in 165 AHL games with the Rochester Americans in that same time frame.

For the Blackhawks, this is another young forward with immensely high upside who seemingly needs a fresh start.

Sabres Addressing Defense

For the Sabres, a team looking to finally take the next step and become a playoff team, defense and goaltending have become the top priorities. This is why Jokiharju makes sense for them. At 20 years old, the Finnish-born, right-shot defender already has NHL potential and could immediately slot into the Sabres top-four next season.

Henri Jokiharju
Henri Jokiharju (Dayna Fjord/Portland Winterhawks)

As far as international play goes, Jokiharju has done nothing but turn heads for all the right reasons at the World Junior Championships and that evidently caught the eye of the Sabres brass. Additionally, Jokiharju split time between the Blackhawks and the Rockford IceHogs in the AHL last season, scoring 12 assists in 38 NHL games as well as two goals and 17 points in 30 NHL games.

Jokiharju and Nylander Get Career Resets

It’s interesting to see the Blackhawks move on from Jokiharju so soon, especially with how well he played for them in just his first professional season. He’s a smart player with all of the skills and tools needed to play at the NHL level against the best talent in the world but for some reason, he continually fell down the team’s depth chart on defense within the organization.

For the Sabres, this was an opportunity to jump on a player with tremendous upside at a position of need. It may have cost them a player with high upside in his own right in Nylander, but this deal simply made sense from a value perspective.

There will be fans on both sides of this deal shaking their head in disbelief that their respective teams moved on from players so early in their careers. There will also be fans happy with the player their team got in return. In the end, only time will tell who got the better player in this trade with there being a very real possibility that both teams won for different reasons.