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Chicago Blackhawks Sci-Fi Part VII: Svedberg-Hjalmarsson Pairing

By Tim Lively
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Chicago Blackhawks Sci-Fi is a mini-series I periodically do here at Blackhawk Up that is reserved for fantastic hypotheticals. I consider the following speculation science fiction at this point because as of now, it’s pure fantasy, but who knows what the future will bring…

The prolonged absence of Duncan Keith as he recovers from knee surgery has given young and unproven defensemen on our beloved Chicago Blackhawks an unprecedented opportunity to establish themselves on a very competitive roster.

So far, Viktor Svedberg, the 24-year-old native of Sweden, has been able to hold his own on the top defensive pairing alongside Brent Seabrook. It’s certainly a good sign Svedberg has won what has to be a coveted spot on the ‘Hawks blue line with Seabs; and it’s clearly an indicator the coaching staff has faith in the 6-9 defensemen.

However, given the historically short timetable coach Joel Quenneville affords young players to develop, and Keith’s and potentially Michal Rozsival’s returns to the lineup getting closer by the day, Svedberg’s window to solidify a roster spot is rapidly shrinking.

While Seabrook has certainly established himself as a leader on the ‘Hawks and there is undoubtedly a great deal Svedberg can learn from skating with such a veteran, I believe there is another ‘Hawks D-man who could prove to be an even better mentor: Niklas Hjalmarsson.

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Let me start out by saying initially I wasn’t a fan of Hjalmarsson. I disagreed with the decision to keep him over Antii Niemi in 2010 when the Blackhawks’ brass were forced to make a choice between the two during the offseason thanks to the salary cap and the offer sheet made by the San Jose Sharks. Hjalmarsson struck me as a talented defensemen, but he seemed to lack effective ice vision and defensive instincts. As far as I was concerned, Hammer was good for little more than blocking shots, which was about all he did in the 2009-2010 season.

Then, needless to say, Hjalmarsson turned it around and became an integral part to the Blackhawks’ Stanley Cup victories in 2013 and 2015. So what happened with Hammer? Sure, he may have just naturally become more refined as a player over time, but I think you and me both know what factor was responsible for Hjalmarsson’s rapid improvement: Johnny Oduya

Nov 2, 2013; Winnipeg, Manitoba, CAN; Chicago Blackhawks defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson (4) celebrates with teammate Johnny Oduya (right) after scoring a goal against the Winnipeg Jets during the first period at MTS Centre. Mandatory Credit: Bruce Fedyck-USA TODAY Sports

Once Oduya arrived in Chicago in 2012, it didn’t take long for him and Hjalmarsson to form a potent synergy that produced the most effective shutdown pair of defensemen in the NHL, so effective that even their native Sweden took notice and recruited the pair to play for their country in the 2014 Winter Olympics.

So why was Oduya such a positive influence on Hjalmarsson? Oduya certainly had some veteran knowledge to impart on Hammer, but more importantly Oduya and Hjalmarsson had unique common ground upon which to bond and form such potent chemistry: Sweden.

The NHL is arguably the most international of the four major professional sports in terms of its player personnel. Moreover, this attribute comes to the forefront in the NHL more so than any other sport because the success of a hockey team largely hinges on the chemistry formed between its players … chemistry that can be hindered by language and cultural barriers.

Thus, it should come as no surprise when fellow countrymen who were initially strangers to the NHL, like Oduya and Hjalmarsson, come together on the same pairing with this common background to form the foundation of a bond capable of creating a productive synthesis.

You need only look to the Blackhawks’ second line for further proof of this phenomenon. With the second-most points on the ‘Hawks, Artemi Panarin has made an incredibly smooth and successful transition to the NHL thus far. Could the veteran guidance of fellow Russian and linemate Artem Anisimov have played a part? Certainly looks to be the case …

Thus, the Blackhawks need to continue the trend of skating fellow countrymen together and put Hjalmarsson and Svedberg on the same pairing. If this were to happen, I wouldn’t be surprised if we witness Svedberg’s development as a defenseman accelerate. Furthermore, given the dicey state of their defense at the moment, you’d think the ‘Hawks would jump at any chance to fast-track a D-man like Svedberg to becoming a reliable blue-line fixture.

Bottom line: Hammer came into his own thanks to the influence and guidance of fellow Swede Oduya. Now with Svedberg, it’s time for Hjalmarsson to make the transition from mentee, to mentor.

FOR THE DAGGER!

Next: Blackhawks' Week Ahead: Central Back-To-Back

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