2004: Dave Bolland, 2nd round, 32nd overall
The Blackhawks had a whopping 17 picks in this draft, and there were certainly some interesting options. There were no standouts, like in the last two classes. But you have guys like Bolland, Bryan Bickell and Troy Brouwer. Cam Barker and Jake Dowell were also in this class (though they weren’t getting billed as the team’s top draft choice).
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Never-smile Bolland had a strange career with the Blackhawks, getting thrown all throughout the forward lines and always finding a way to do something. If he wasn’t scoring, he was irritating the hell out of the opponent (and without taking too many penalties). Bolland was part of two Cup runs, securing the second in 2013 with the game-winning goal in Game 6 of the Final against Boston.
Bolland, who has had trouble staying on the ice since leaving Chicago due to injuries and poor play, tallied 70 goals and 98 assists in 332 regular-season games, adding 17 goals and 26 assists in 67 postseason games with Chicago. Not a bad run for a guy nicknamed “The Rat.”
2005: Niklas Hjalmarsson, 4th round, 108th overall
After a few consecutive drafts featuring key successes, the Blackhawks struggled in 2005. Jack Skille was the team’s top pick, and we know how that turned out. Only four of the Blackhawks’ 12 picks this year ever saw NHL ice. But the Blackhawks just needed one good pick in this group, and they got one.
Hjalmarsson is the oft-underappreciated defenseman whose body is a giant bruise, at this point. He’s been hit everywhere he can be hit with a puck, and yet he never misses a shift. Get hit in the throat with a puck and lose speaking ability for a couple weeks? Not missing a shift. Get hit in your unprotected face with a puck and bleed like a sieve? Not missing a shift. Get hit in the shins, arms, chest and groin? Please.
While Keith and Seabrook have (rightly) been praised for their critical roles in the Blackhawks’ three Cups since 2010, Hjalmarsson has been there all along as well, mopping up plenty of messes on the defensive end. He’s taken more defensive-zone starts than offensive every season since 2011-12.
Thus, in 674 games, he has just 20 goals and 133 assists. But no one’s complaining. Hjalmarsson has been just as important as Keith and Seabrook in this era of success. Just ask the 1,296 career blocks the Swede has recorded.
Next: 2006 And 2007