Over the next five weeks, CSNChicago.com Blackhawks Insider Tracey Myers and PGL host Chris Boden will evaluate the 2011-12 performance of each player on the Hawks roster. One breakdown will occur every weekday in numerical order.
Niklas Hjalmarsson played in 69 games in 2011-12, scoring one goal with 14 assists for 15 points and finishing with a plus-9 rating. He averaged 20 minutes and 11 seconds per game, had 14 penalty minutes, 42 hits and 142 blocked sots. In six playoff games against the Coyotes his playing time dipped to 18 minutes and 10 seconds per game. He had one assist, five hits and seven blocked shots while finishing minus-3.
Boden's take: Hjalmarsson will turn just 25 years old in June, but as he enters his fourth full season, we probably have a pretty good idea who he is and what he provides. He sacrifices his body to block shots. At 6-foot-3, maybe we'd like to see him play a little more consistently physical against opponents, like he showed in glimpses against Shane Doan in the playoffs. But if he's considered a second-pair defenseman, would it be fair to expect a little more offensive bang for the 14 million the team invested in him to match San Jose's RFA offer sheet two years ago? He's halfway through that four-year deal now, and he has yet to top the 17 points he delivered in the 2009-10 Cup season, the three goals he posted the following season, or higher than a plus-13 rating.
Myers' take: One of the biggest questions regarding Hjalmarsson this season was, who was going to be his new partner and how would he adjust to him? Hjalmarsson had built up a great rapport with Brian Campbell the previous two seasons but had to get used to playing with someone else in 2011-12. He and Nick Leddy formed a good pair early. But as the season went on the defensive pairings changed -- as they and the forward lines usually do. Hjalmarsson had a few different partners, including Brent Seabrook during Duncan Keith's suspension. But he was sidetracked when he suffered a concussion in early February that cost him 13 games. Despite that, Hjalmarsson had a pretty steady, if not eye-catching, season.
Chris: Likely, more of the same. Hjalmarsson himself admits he'd like to provide more offense, and spent most of the first year of that deal pressing to do just that. I'm not sure how realistic that is. He's a regular on the penalty-killing units. He blocks shots, and somewhat overlooked is the fact that's he's also been paired for most of the past two seasons with a talented, but very "green" Leddy. Barring the addition of more veteran help on the blue line, he might very well have to help "coach up" Dylan Olsen next season.
If he can't supply any more offense, the Hawks need him to be more consistent and reliable in his own end, help the PK improve and look to play more physical with a body that goes through a lot of sacrifice as it is. This defense needs to be better next season -- whether it's in front of Corey Crawford in goal, or someone else. Others need to pitch in and take some minutes away from Keith and Seabrook. If it comes strictly from within the current defensive crop in place, Hjalmarsson will be among those who have to make it happen.
Tracey: Two seasons ago Hjalmarsson said he wanted to bring more offense to his game. It took him quite a while to get his first point last season and he finished with 15. Whatever offense Hjalmarsson adds, fine. But his defense is what he's getting paid for and he's still the best shot blocker on the team. If Hjalmarsson keeps focusing on that, and gets a steady blue-line partner this coming season, he should be fine.
How do you feel about this evaluation? As always, be sure to chime in with your thoughts by commenting below and check out some of Hjalmarsson's highlights above.
Previously: Duncan Keith
Up next: Steve Montador