05/19/2009 8:47 AM
Photo courtesy of Blackhawks.com
Article By: Mike Peck
Rockford, Ill.- If one were to cross paths with Niklas Hjalmarsson in public, one wouldn’t think the Chicago Blackhawks defenseman was an imposing figure. At 6-1, 200-pound, The Eksjo, Sweden native plays a lot bigger than his vitals read.
The smooth-skating defenseman has locked in his spot in the Chicago lineup and ever since a March recall from Rockford, Hjalmarsson has helped provide a physical presence on the ice.
After an injury-riddled beginning to his professional hockey career in North American in 2007-08, Hjalmarsson adjusted nicely to the style of hockey on this side of the pond. A hand injury kept Hjalmarsson out of the line up right out of the gates during his rookie season.
The hand injury didn’t subside and after six games Hjalmarsson was shelved for 19 more contests to ensure there would be no more lingering effects. That proved critical in his development as the blue-liner got his first shot with Chicago late last February.
Hjalmarsson then made the Blackhawks out of training camp this season, but a rib injury in Chicago’s opener in New York forced him to the Injured Reserve and eventually back down to Rockford.
“After I got injured (with Chicago) in the beginning of the season I had a pretty rough time in the beginning there in Rockford,” said Hjalmarsson. “I felt like Chicago was pretty far away. You just have to take the chance when you get it and play as good as you can and try to contribute.”
Before getting labeled injury prone, Hjalmarsson didn’t miss another game in ’08-09 and after a slow start in Rockford, once again the defenseman progressed enough for another late season recall.
The difference this time around was that Hjalmarsson never returned to Rockford and has earned a spot and a regular shift with the Blackhawks. Hjalmarsson finished the season with 21 games in Chicago, notching a goal and two assists after skating in 52 contests with Rockford.
“You have to be patient, that’s it I think,” said Hjalmarsson. “And you have to be confident. I know I’m a good player and I know that I can play in the NHL against the best players in the world.”
Hjalmarsson has proved just that and his physical presence has done a lot of talking. In the Western Conference Quarterfinals Hjalmarsson laid out Calgary Flames defenseman Dion Phaneuf.
If you need further proof that Hjalmarsson will hit anyone, just flashback to his stint in Rockford this season when he crushed San Antonio’s notorious tough guy Francis Lessard or when he leveled Peoria’s bruising defenseman and St. Louis Blues prospect Steve Wagner.
A lot of prospect sites have tagged Hjalmarsson as an offensive style defenseman. In 52 games with Rockford, he had two goals and 16 assists. The offense for Hjalmarsson will develop and with the likes of Brian Campbell, Cam Barker and Duncan Keith, Hjalmarsson won’t feel the pressure to produce points from on top for a while.
With the above mentioned defenseman shouldering most of the offensive burden from the “D”, Hjalmarsson should be able to develop rather then be thrust into a role in which he isn’t ready for.
A lot is made of the youthful Blackhawks and the players that are usually mentioned when talking about the young team include Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, Barker, Seabrook and others. Hjalmarsson is not often mentioned in this group, but the 21-year old is well on his way to developing into a nice piece in Chicago’s long term puzzle.
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