September is upon us and the Chicago Blackhawks will begin their third title defense of the decade in just a couple weeks. The team kicks off training camp at Compton Family Ice Arena on the campus of Notre Dame Sept. 18, putting us a step closer to the end of a whirlwind offseason. Over the next couple of weeks, Blackhawk Up will project the stats of each player on the roster, using their career averages and numbers from a year ago to analyze whether that player’s stats will be over or under the projected total.
The Over/Under series forges on with a look at the best defensive defenseman the Blackhawks have, Niklas Hjalmarsson. The 28-year-old is coming off one of his best seasons in Chicago and was a vital part of the Stanley Cup championship team.
Hjalmarsson is not known for his offensive prowess, which makes his over/under a bit more difficult to project.
2014-15 Projected Over/Under: five goals, 23 assists
2014-15 Actual Stats: three goals, 16 assists
Hjalmarsson’s projected five goals and 28 points would have set career highs for the Swedish defender. That’s not to say his season was underwhelming. Hammer’s 19 points were the second-most of his career.
It’s interesting that Hjalmarsson had one of his better offensive seasons despite having to occasionally babysit stragglers David Rundblad, Trevor van Riemsdyk and other defensemen learning the NHL game. Hjalmarsson averaged more than 26 minutes of ice time during the playoffs and actually tallied six points during the postseason.
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2015-16 Projected Over/Under: two goals, 15 assists
A lot of the changes the Chicago Blackhawks have undergone heading into next season will affect Hjalmarsson. First of all, his defensive partner, Johnny Oduya, is now a member of the Dallas Stars. Second, the Blackhawks replaced the relatively efficient and productive Oduya with a more liable defenseman in Trevor Daley. Also, the Blackhawks have not found any clear answers among their third pairing and will likely roll with Rundblad and van Riemsdyk next season.
Hjalmarsson’s stats are already difficult enough to predict because of his defensive orientation. However, it’s tough to think Hjalmarsson improves on his numbers next season, as he will surely take on even more defensive responsibility (if that’s even possible). Seventeen points for Hjalmarsson seems like a very realistic number.
The loss of Oduya will hurt, as Oduya helped pace the offense at times and was a respectable defensive player. Hjalmarsson will likely be paired often with the bottom two defenders and will be forced to play it safe and cover more ground to protect his teammate. Development from van Riemsdyk and Rundblad could take some of the defensive burden off of Hjalmarsson’s shoulders.
Hjalmarsson isn’t an offensive-minded player and the rare scoring he does show could be further mitigated by a lot of uncertainty surrounding him on the blue line. Hjalmarsson will still be a strong defender, but it’s tough to see him repeating last season’s numbers.
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