Chicago Blackhawks: Niklas Hjalmarsson Is Defensive Key

By Mike Brennan
Jan 8, 2016; Chicago, IL, USA; Chicago Blackhawks defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson (4) celebrates his goal against the Buffalo Sabres during the first period at the United Center. Mandatory Credit: David Banks-USA TODAY Sports
Jan 8, 2016; Chicago, IL, USA; Chicago Blackhawks defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson (4) celebrates his goal against the Buffalo Sabres during the first period at the United Center. Mandatory Credit: David Banks-USA TODAY Sports /
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The Swedish defenseman is extremely important to the Chicago Blackhawks

Way back in the 2005 NHL Draft, the Chicago Blackhawks used the 108th overall pick on a young Swede named Niklas Hjalmarsson. Fast forward to the 2006-07 season, and Hjalmarsson made his NHL debut.

Since that season, Hjalmarsson has become part of the core and has even become a fan favorite with his hard-to-spell name. Now more than ever, Hjalmarsson needs to be a huge part of not only the Blackhawks’ defense, but the entire team as well. If the ‘Hawks want to regain their fortitude on the blue line, the conversation needs to begin with the 29-year-old Swede.

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As all ‘Hawks fans know, the Blackhawks defense was not very good last season. Many fans, including myself, think the bad defense ultimately turned out to be the downfall of the team. Above all these underwhelming defensemen last season was Hjalmarsson.

He posted two goals and 22 assists, which was his his career high in those two categories. Hjalmarsson was plus-13 in the plus/minus department, which ranked third best in his career. One of the weird parts about Hjalmarsson is he flies surprisingly under the radar. Maybe it is because he does not score many goals, but fans do not appreciate all the things that he does for this team.

Along with all these very good stats, there is one stat that really stands out: blocked shots. He got in front of 151 shots last season, which was the best total on the team. Hjalmarsson does not score many goals, but he makes up for it with his mentality to not let anything get to Corey Crawford.

Apr 23, 2016; Chicago, IL, USA; Chicago Blackhawks goalie Corey Crawford (right) is congratulated by defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson (left) following the conclusion of the third period in game six of the first round of the 2016 Stanley Cup Playoffs against the St. Louis Blues at the United Center. Chicago won 6-3. Mandatory Credit: Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports
Apr 23, 2016; Chicago, IL, USA; Chicago Blackhawks goalie Corey Crawford (right) is congratulated by defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson (left) following the conclusion of the third period in game six of the first round of the 2016 Stanley Cup Playoffs against the St. Louis Blues at the United Center. Chicago won 6-3. Mandatory Credit: Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports /

Like I have said before, I believe that the Blackhawks defense needs to start looking younger. Brent Seabrook, Duncan Keith and Hjalmarsson are all around 30, and most defensemen start to trend downward after the age of 30. With young players coming up like Viktor Svedberg, Erik Gustafsson and Michal Kempny, veteran defensemen need to start showing the young players the ropes and need to start getting them ready to hand over the blue line to them.

Niklas Hjalmarsson is the perfect player to do this. He possess the qualities that are important for all defensemen to have. He has off-the-chart “grit” stats like takeaways, blocked shots and ice time, and if a young defenseman can posses all these stats, they will go far in this league. Hjalmarsson would show the young guys how to correctly come up in the NHL.

While that is how Hjalmarsson is going to help the ‘Hawks in the future, how is he going to help the ‘Hawks right now? Right now the ‘Hawks need Hjalmarsson to simply continue doing what he has been doing.

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There is a lot of uncertainty on this ‘Hawks team, and Hjalmarsson cannot be part of it. He cannot get caught up in the hysteria of trying to score goals and produce. He will need to keep getting in front of pucks as well. If he can do this, while managing to not get hurt, he will be able to carry this Blackhawks defense and will be able to teach the young blueliners the right way to play the position.

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