The Chicago Blackhawks are coming into the regular season with their defensive depth being tested thanks to trades (Nick Leddy) and injuries (Michal Rozsival), and as they get set to take on the Dallas Stars, they won’t exactly get to ease into the campaign.
That’s because Dallas has one of the fastest groups of forwards in the entire NHL, with guys like Jamie Benn, Tyler Seguin and Ales Hemsky in the mix. Jason Spezza is no slouch either, and with that kind of offensive firepower, the Stars are emerging on everyone’s list as a team to watch in the coming year.
As for the Hawks, they are currently trying to address their shortcomings by breaking up arguably their most effective defensive pairing. Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook will remain together on the top line for the Hawks, but Niklas Hjalmarsson and Johnny Oduya will be separated to start the year. Oduya has been taking shifts with David Rundblad and Kyle Cumiskey during the preseason, and Hjalmarsson has been paired up with newcomer Trevor van Riemsdyk.
As of right now, it appears that Oduya will skate with Rundblad on Thursday night, and that is certainly going to change the way the Hawks approach things. Van Riemsdyk is a solid offensive player, scoring 16 goals and dishing out 59 assists during his three-year stint at the University of New Hampshire. Pairing him up with a defensively-responsible player like Hjalmarsson should help ease his transition into the NHL, and will also allow him some freedom to jump up into plays in the offensive end of the ice.
As for Rundblad, there are still plenty of questions he’ll have to answer. After coming over from the Arizona Coyotes in a trade-deadline swap last season, Rundblad only played in five games for the Blackhawks, with zero points to his credit. Thrust into a role where he’ll likely play some serious minutes, he’ll have to prove that he was worth the investment the Hawks made in him, and with Oduya alongside him, he’ll at least have some solid support.
That, in the end, is likey the motivation driving Joel Quenneville to split up his most dominant defensive pairing. Oduya and Hjalmarsson have great chemistry, impeccable feel for when to push the tempo and when to hang back, and most importantly of all, gobs of NHL experience that will help them to guide along two defensemen with only 55 games of combined experience (Rundblad has played in 55 games, and van Riemsdyk will make his debut Thursday).
Going up against a talented Stars team will provide them with their first test, and it’s truly a doozy. If these two can skate well and defend effectively against this bunch, then there isn’t a lot that NHL teams can throw at them that they won’t be prepared for.