Gregory Shamus, Getty Images
Niklas Hjalmarsson #4 of the Chicago Blackhawks tries to get the puck past the diving Justin Abdelkader #8 of the Detroit Red Wings during the second period in Game Four of the Western Conference Semifinals during the 2013 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Joe Louis Arena on May 23, 2013 in Detroit, Michigan.
Throughout the month of July, Madhouse Enforcer will be evaluating the performances of the 2013-14 Chicago Blackhawks. What did they do right? What did they do wrong? What can they improve upon for next season?
Today we turn our attention to the blue line, as Niklas Hjalmarsson’s season is dissected.
Plenty of attention is paid to the top line pairing of Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook, but the work that Hjalmarsson and defensive partner Johnny Oduya did this season was simply exquisite. Not only did Hjalmarsson have a career year offensively, scoring four goals and dishing out 22 assists (both career highs), but he also drew some of the toughest defensive assignments all season long, and he largely passed those tests with flying colors.
In the two seasons that followed the Hawks’ 2010 championship, Hjalmarsson looked lost at times on the ice, and his offensive numbers slipped a bit in the process. He had no such hangover this time, moving the puck quickly in transition and staying in good position throughout the season. His ability to maintain positioning helped when Oduya would stray (notably during the playoffs), and he kept those slip-ups from becoming huge blow-ups most of the time.
It’s difficult to find lowlights for Hjalmarsson on the season (aside from individual games, like his poor Game 1 performance against the St. Louis Blues when he was on the ice for three even strength goals against), so we’re going to have to be a bit nit-picky on this one.
Hjalmarsson had a great season on offense, but he had a bit of an uneven finish to the season. In the final 11 games of the regular season, Hjalmarsson didn’t register a single point, and it wasn’t until Game 5 against the Blues that he was finally able to get on the board with an assist in the 3-2 overtime victory.
Best Game of 2013-14:
There were several games that could have qualified as Hjalmarsson’s best of the season (he had two assists in the season opener against the Washington Capitals, and also had two helpers against the Calgary Flames during the team’s circus trip), but his play in Game 2 of the team’s series against the Minnesota Wild narrowly wins the day.
In that contest, Hjalmarsson had the requisite amount of offense to his credit with two assists, but he also picked up four blocked shots in the game, and most importantly of all, Chicago won to get a 2-0 lead in the series. It was a perfect representation of what Hjalmarsson brought to the table during the postseason for the Hawks, mixing offensive prowess and defensive responsibility and grit.
Outlook for Next Season:
With Oduya potentially on the trading block, Hjalmarsson could conceivably be looking at having a new defensive partner next season. Whether it’s a youngster like Stephen Johns or Klas Dahlbeck, or if he slots in with a longer-tenured guy like Michal Rozisval or Nick Leddy, it will be imperative for him to find chemistry with his new linemate if things come to that, but with the way he’s been able to adjust on the fly throughout his career, Hjalmarsson should pass any test with flying colors.