Niklas Hjalmarsson: The NHL's Most Underappreciated Defenseman?
Finally, an article dedicated to giving Niklas Hjalmarsson the love he so deserves.
It's a simple reality that you need to be firmly aware of as a member of the Chicago Blackhawks. Unless your name is one of Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, or Duncan Keith (maybe Brent Seabrook too), you're going to be overshadowed on a regular basis. This is the story of Niklas Hjalmarsson.
The reaction when Hjalmarsson received a five-year contract extension from the Blackhawks this summer was an interesting one. During his four-year contract that was the result of a matched offer sheet from the San Jose Sharks, Hjammer was often discussed as a trade candidate, almost more than any other player. Now he's as close to a core player as you can get.
That doesn't mean that he still isn't underrated/underappreciated. While that type of terminology tends to get old, especially with the Hawks being as deep a team as they are (and thus having several players that fit the "underrated" mold), it still rings true for everybody's favorite Swede.
Even with Keith and Seabrook still gracing the Hawks' blue line with their presence, you could have made an argument that for much of the regular season in 2013, Niklas Hjalmarsson was the best defenseman for the Blackhawks on any given night. He had an excellent year logging minutes next to Johnny Oduya, giving the Hawks one of the best top four groups on the planet. Which obviously played a heavy hand in him receiving that extension.
You don't really need to look at the Corsi numbers and such to know how good Hjalmarsson was in 2013, but we're going to anyway. His total Corsi for the year was at 90, and he posted a plus-15 for the year. The thing about Hjalmarsson is the fact that roughly half of his starts come in the defensive zone, and his consistency has led to him being matched up against the opposition's best.
Outside of those numbers improving, and his decision-making and positional play improving significantly last year, we know what Hjalmarsson brings to the table. He's one of the premier shotblockers in the game and tough as nails as a result, with his physical play also experiencing an uptick in the last couple of seasons.
On a lot of teams, you might be talking about Hjalmarsson as a top pairing defenseman, complimenting a puck mover. He showed last year he's capable of handling big minutes. Add that to the fact that he's constantly in the shooting/passing lanes, and his positioning continues to improve as his career goes on, and Hjalmarsson is an absolute figure of consistency on the Chicago blue line.
That new contract certainly gives him some validation. But it's time to acknowledge the fact that the Blackhawks have one of the best (defensive) defensemen in the league, in the form of Niklas Hjalmarsson.