The past two years have been incredibly frustrating for the Chicago Blackhawks and their fans. Which is part of what makes this hot start such a joy to watch.
But during those two years where the Hawks failed to find any consistency, few players were more frustrating to watch than Niklas Hjalmarsson.
After matching the four-year offer sheet that the San Jose Sharks had signed Hjalmarsson to, it was expected that Hjammer would become a part of this noted core group on the Blackhawks. That didn’t exactly happen in the two years that followed, and most expected he would have been traded by now.
It’s probably a good thing that the Blackhawks didn’t act on a potential trade. This season has been a completely different story for Hjalmarsson. He’s playing more like it’s 2010 and making that four-year, $14 million contract seem more like a bargain than a gross overpayment.
Known primarily as a shot blocker, Hjalmarsson has taken his game far beyond that this season. He’s become a very steady presence on a very much improved Chicago blue line.
Hjalmarsson has been extremely solid in his play in the defensive end so far this season. His coverage has been excellent and he’s not getting tossed around by opposing forwards. He’s being responsible with the puck. Many of the issues we have seen with him over the past couple of seasons seem to have improved by leaps and bounds.
Which is why it’s no secret that the team is finding success with Hjammer on the ice. He’s at a plus-6 this season, which is second on the team, trailing only Marian Hossa. He’s also playing up over 20 minutes a game, which is good for fourth. His linemate, Johnny Oduya, has also been much better than he was towards the end of last year. That can’t be a coincidence. The two compliment each other very well.
If this is the Niklas Hjalmarsson that the Hawks are going to continue to get for the foreseeable future, than he is absolutely a core part of this team. The defensive corps for the Blackhawks have played very well in the early going, and Hjalmarsson is obviously a huge part of that.