Ahead of tonight's Game 6 tilt with the Minnesota Wild, in which the Chicago Blackhawks will attempt to close them out and move on to more important teams in the Western Conference Finals, I'd just like to share something that's been on my mind recently that I feel I need to share. I have an inordinate amount of love for Niklas Hjalmarsson.
Believe it or not, there was a time when Niklas Hjalmarsson wasn't really appreciated by fans of the Chicago Blackhawks. When Stan Bowman went out and matched a four-year offer sheet from the San Jose Sharks in order to retain Hjalmarsson, and essentially costing the team Antti Niemi, the debate raged like Greg Boysen reading about a Notre Dame success story. Those exist somewhere right?
Regardless, here we are just about four years later. Not only has Hjalmarsson proven his worth to this club, he's done so to a point where he's locked in for the next five years. He'll be a member of the team through the 2018-19 season, and the $4.1 million cap hit that he'll carry really is a bargain at this point. When he's not flashing his offensive ability as #OffensiveJuggernautNiklasHjalmarsson, he's doing just about everything else on the ice that has helped to make the Blackhawks successful in recent years.
Hjalmarsson, and his Swedish partner in crime Johnny Oduya, consistently match up against the toughest competition. His QoC TOI% is at 31.1% for the playoffs, which ranks third among players still left in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, and fifth overall. Of players remaining in the postseason, only teammates Jonathan Toews and Bryan Bickell sport more impressive figures.
The shot blocking is obviously a tremendous element of Hjalmarsson's game. He has 36 shot blocks thus far in the postseason, second in the league, and went for 157 in the regular season. While that regular season total was good for only 19th in the league, those that ranked above him mainly suit up for teams that have tend to have an issue preventing their own goaltender from constantly being peppered with shots. Hjalmarsson also doesn't bring much of a physical game to the mix, but he doesn't have to. He's extremely steady with the puck in his own zone and handles the forecheck well.
Then you talk about toughness. While Hjalmarsson has yet to play with a broken leg (something LeBron would never do, amirite?), he routinely displays how physically persistent a player he is. Blocking shots at the pace he does can be a nasty business, and we've seen Hjammer struggle to get up from some. Yet, nary missing a shift, he's right back out there. Even when he's taking pucks to the goddamn throat.
*Raises glass* So here's to you Niklas Hjalmarsson. The Swedish King. While everything you do may not show up in the box score immediately following the game, you're as integral a piece to this Blackhawks' run, and the previous, as any player on the roster. In bringing an incredible defensive game, it's all about the little things that have made Hjalmarsson so successful and allowing him to go from a questionable entity on the roster, to developing into an absolute stud on the blue line.