With the season now finished, I’ll be reviewing the individual performances of Chicago Blackhawks players and giving out grades based on their play during the 2013-14 season. In this article, I’ll take a look at Niklas Hjalmarsson.
Hjalmarsson was Chicago’s primary shutdown defenseman once again in 2013-14, with Joel Quenneville preferring to conserve Duncan Keith for the playoffs. Hjalmarsson took a very nice step forward this season, adding an offensive dimension to his game that had always been lacking. Many of the unnecessary icings of years past — previously a noticeable weakness of Hjalmarsson’s game — were tape-to-tape breakout and stretch passes this year. His 26 regular season points shattered his previous career high of 15, and it wasn’t just luck; Hjalmarsson was clearly more assertive and creative in the offensive zone than ever.
He wasn’t great in the postseason, however. Many Blackhawks players had turnover issues in the playoffs — especially against the Los Angeles Kings and their aggressive forecheck — and Hjalmarsson was one of the worst offenders. His puck handling skills are below average, which makes him prone to mistakes when forced to make quick decisions while in possession. Positionally, Hjalmarsson also had some problems in the postseason; he and Johnny Oduya hung Corey Crawford out fairly often.
Still, Hjalmarsson’s performance in the playoffs was only disappointing because expectations are so high for him, something for which his own improvement is responsible. I believe that a B- is the most appropriate grade for Hjalmarsson’s 2013-14.