Chicago Blackhawks fans will have to wait a week to see Johnny Oduya back in the red No. 27 sweater.
The 35-year-old defenseman, who was brought back to Chicago in a pre-deadline trade with Dallas, practiced with the Hawks on Thursday, but he won’t play until the team faces the Anaheim Ducks on March 9. Oduya stated conditioning, and not an ankle injury that hampered him for the better part of the last two months, as a reason for missing the next two games - Islanders (Friday) and at Predators (Saturday).
"We're looking for next week, and that's more a matter of conditioning a little bit, just being fully ready," Oduya told Tracey Myers of CSN Chicago. "I think the schedule picks up pretty heavy after that, so this may be the opportunity to capitalize on (conditioning more). That's how we're looking at it."
After Saturday’s game in Nashville, the Hawks will have a four-day break before hosting Anaheim which will give Oduya some extra days to get his legs under him.
Oduya’s absence will benefit the Hawks for the expansion draft in June. Veteran defenseman Michal Rozsival, who signed a one-year contract extension Tuesday, will play the next two games to bring his total games played the last two seasons to 70. The 70-game mark will make him eligible for the expansion draft, according to Chris Hine of the Chicago Tribune.
When Oduya does return he could be reunited with his former linemate and countrymen Niklas Hjalmarsson, who is out with an upper-body. Hawks coach Joel Quenneville anticipates having Oduya and Hjalmarsson be the second defensive pairing.
Here’s what the defensive lineup projects to look like upon Hjalmarsson’s return:
Duncan Keith-Brent Seabrook
Niklas Hjalmarsson-Johnny Oduya
Brian Campbell-Trevor van Riemsdyk
Oduya scored nine goals and 34 assists in 219 regular-season games in his first stint with the Hawks from 2012-15. He also had five goals and 18 assists in 71 playoff games that included winning two Stanley Cups (2013, 2015).
When Oduya does finally put on the Hawks red sweater again, it’ll be his first home game at the United Center since Game 6 of the 2015 Stanley Cup when Chicago won the Cup.