Throughout the month of July, Madhouse Enforcer will be taking a look at various members of the 2013 Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks. What did they do right? What did they do wrong? What can they improve upon next season? We’ll answer all those questions and more in the lead-up to Blackhawks Convention, which starts July 26th.
Today’s subject is defenseman Johnny Oduya.
Oduya came to the Blackhawks in a midseason trade with the Winnipeg Jets in 2012, and the expectation was that he would add some offensive punch to a blue line that was sorely missing it after the team traded Brian Campbell to the Florida Panthers before the season began.
What the Hawks got instead was a player who in his first full season with the Hawks ended up taking tough defensive assignments over the tandem of Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook, and Oduya ended up thriving in that role.
Along with fellow Swede Niklas Hjalmarsson, Oduya took a large amount of defensive zone draws against quality opponents as the playoffs progressed, and was on the ice in quite a few situations in which the Hawks were trying to defend late leads. This enabled head coach Joel Quenneville to cut Keith and Seabrook’s minutes down, and it kept all four players fresh throughout the team’s Stanley Cup run.
Some will point to Oduya’s offensive numbers as a reason for concern, but the fact is that he is producing at normal levels. He averaged exactly a quarter of a point per game during the regular season, and that rate was actually a slight improvement over his average in 2011-12, where he had 18 points in 81 games.
The only real concern with Oduya’s game is that his discipline can get away from him from time to time. He picked up eight minor penalties in 23 playoff games for the Hawks, and while that doesn’t seem like a lot, it was a big difference from his tenure as a Hawk. In his first 72 games with the organization (including six playoff games and 66 regular season tilts), Oduya only had five minor penalties.
Obviously it’s hard to criticize a player for committing more infractions when the quality of competition is on the rise, but Oduya will need to revert back to his previous form if Quenneville is to continue trusting him in those tough spots.
Best Game of 2013:
While Oduya had several big games for the Hawks in the 2013 season, he was at his absolute best in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final against the Boston Bruins.
In that game, Oduya had the game-tying goal in the second period, and ended up playing 37:20 in the 4-3 triumph. He ended up with only two shots on goal, but that was more than offset by his seven blocked shots and five hits that he picked up in the contest. He ended up playing 50 shifts in the game.
No, Oduya didn’t play more than guys like Keith or Seabrook in the contest, but his performance on the second defensive pairing allowed the Hawks to win the triple overtime slugfest, and that’s exactly what his role on this team is.
Outlook for 2013-14:
Look for a continuation of Oduya’s play in important defensive situations in the upcoming season.
With the league going back to a full 82 game slate, the abbreviated offseason the Hawks have as Cup champions, and the Sochi Olympics forcing the schedule to be compressed once again, Quenneville is going to be looking to lighten the workload of his defensive horses, and Oduya will be an important component in that scheme.
In addition, look for Oduya to be grouped in with various defensemen in the early stages of the season. There’s no telling if Quenneville will keep Keith and Seabrook together, and it will be important for Oduya to recognize his role with various players. If he’s paired with Hjalmarsson, he will need to be the aggressor on the offensive side of things. If he’s grouped with Keith or Nick Leddy, then he will need to be the responsible defensive player.
Having no concrete role may be a scary thing to some players, but for a guy with Oduya’s skillset, it is actually a blessing. It gives him more ice time because of his versatility, and it helps the Hawks to have a guy that they can plug in anywhere, so look for them to take advantage of that asset.