After the 2010 Stanley Cup season, the Chicago Blackhawks had to make the difficult decision of whether to keep goaltender Antti Niemi or defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson on a 4-year, $14 million contract.
Years later, it is clear the Blackhawks absolutely made the right decision in retaining Hjalmarsson as the now 26-year-old Swede is not only the Blackhawks’ third defenseman, but a matured, well-rounded hockey player.
Since the addition of Johnny Oduya at the 2011-12 NHL trade deadline, Hjalmarsson has come into his own, creating a formidable duo beneath Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook. Together Hjalmarsson and Oduya have earned the confidence of Coach Joel Quenneville and are inserted into difficult situations for their smart board positioning and excellent stick work.
Offensively, however, Hjalmarsson is having by far the most effective season of his career, shooting 6.7 percent and scoring four goals in only 49 games. Thanks to this, Hjalmarsson already has a career high in points with 19, and will likely surpass his career best plus-minus rating of plus-15 by season’s end. Thanks to Hjalmarsson’s well-rounded style of play, he ranks 20th amongst NHL defenseman in plus-minus at plus-12.
Defensively, Hjalmarsson continues to be dependable regardless of situation. Playing a puck first style similar to Duncan Keith, Hjalmarsson has only registered 24 penalty minutes while blocking 94 shots, 15th amongst defensemen.
Although the Blackhawks have begun line shuffling up front, the defense as a whole continues to play great, ranking in the top five in shots allowed per game. As the games get tougher and the stakes continue to rise, expect to see Niklas Hjalmarsson on the ice when the Blackhawks need a stop the most.
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