Blackhawks' Niklas Hjalmarsson rested, ready for 'most fun part of the year'

Blackhawks' Niklas Hjalmarsson rested, ready for 'most fun part of the year'

Niklas Hjalmarsson was understandably happy for two reasons.

He and his wife welcomed their second child, a boy, a few days ago. And now he can concentrate on playoff hockey, what he considers "the most fun part of the year."

"Yeah, it's a big relief to have been able to be a part of it myself, to be in town for it. I'm excited and glad everything went well," said Hjalmarsson, who stayed in Chicago during the Blackhawks' final regular-season road trip to await the birth of his second son. "So [now] I'm just excited to get the playoffs going and be back with the team here. just try to do my thing."

Hjalmarsson practiced with the Blackhawks the last two days as the team preps for Game 1 against the Nashville Predators on Thursday night. Hjalmarsson is like so many of his teammates: he hates missing games. But considering it was family first it was an easy call. That, and the extra rest after leading the Blackhawks in blocked shots this season is never a bad idea.

"Yeah, you can see it as a positive," he said. "I did a lot of working out and stayed in shape here on home ice, so I'm well rested. So I can't complain about that."

Coach Joel Quenneville said Hjalmarsson's break could benefit the defenseman mentally as well as physically.

"He's a warrior. No matter what he's going through and how he deals with pain or some tough shots in some spots, [he's] getting right back out there and trying to do the same thing and not being influenced with where he has to go. You've got to commend him on how he's a battler and how he does everything he can to keep the pucks ahead of him. I think that's probably not a bad thing that he went through being off for a few days," Quenneville said. "Everything's good now [with his family], so it's probably a good frame of mind to be approached in the playoffs."

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Watch for SHGs

Special teams always loom large and for the Blackhawks, there's one more item they're adding to the be-on-alert list: The Predators' propensity for scoring short-handed goals. Nashville scored a league-leading 12 of them this season.

"They have so many short-handed goals. They can create offense off the kill," Marian Hossa said. "They have so many guys who have been really hot lately, lots of individuals who can score the goals. It's really dangerous, and you have to play an even game. We have to be good defensively and wait for mistakes… when you play well defensively you're going to create options."

Rozsival recovering

Michal Rozsival underwent successful surgery to repair facial fractures on Tuesday. As for Rozsival's recovery timeline, Quenneville said, "at some point we expect him to be available." Rozsival was injured by a Nick Ritchie punch in the Blackhawks' game in Anaheim on Thursday.

All eyes on Blackhawks defensemen as prospect camp opens


All eyes on Blackhawks defensemen as prospect camp opens

The second wave of Blackhawks defensemen is on the way. That's exactly where all the attention was when prospect camp opened up Monday at MB Ice Arena.

Nicolas Beaudin. Adam Boqvist. Henri Jokiharju. Ian Mitchell. Call it the Big Four. Where are they all at in their development? When will they be ready to make an NHL impact? Who's the most pro ready? 

Lots of questions. Those will slowly start to get answered and it begins now.

While there may not necessarily be an open competition among the group right away, there's certainly a desire to make a strong first impression in front of the upper brass that included Stan Bowman, John McDonough and Joel Quenneville watching on Day 1.

"Every NHL team has a lot of good defensemen prospects, so I mean obviously when you want to go out there you want to showcase yourself as best as you can," Mitchell said. "Obviously you want to be the best defenseman here so that's my goal going into this, I want to prove to everyone that I'm a good defenseman, I deserve to play at the next level. Obviously there's lots of good players here, but you're trying to all succeed."

Said Beaudin: "There's a lot of competition. There's a lot of good, young defensemen. I think you just need to be different when you play when you show what you can do."

Said Boqvist: "I'm trying to be better every day. Of course I will play in the NHL one day and win Stanley Cups, so that's my mindset."

The theme? Focus on your own game, take what you learn out of this week and apply those tools in your game when advancing your development next season. The rest will take care of itself.

Mitchell will go back to Denver for his sophomore campaign to continue his development. Beaudin is expected to return to the QMJHL with the Drummondville Voltigeurs. Boqvist signed with the OHL's London Knights, where he will look to get accustomed to the North American style of play.

For Jokiharju, the goal is different. This is his second development camp. He signed an entry-level contract in June. Making the big club is a real goal and a legitimate possibility for a Blackhawks team looking for young, impact defensemen immediately.

"I think if Henri has a really good summer of training, comes into camp, I certainly thinks he gets a good look," Blackhawks vice president of amateur scouting Mark Kelley told NBC Sports Chicago last month.

Jokiharju showed poise and confidence with and without the puck during drills, like someone who knows this is only the first step towards that ultimate goal.

"Yeah," Jokiharju responded when asked if the expectation is to make it to the NHL this season. "You want to set the bar high, you don't want to set the bar too low. I want to dream big and that's the dream."

That's the dream for everyone. When that happens, it's up to them. This week is a chance to set an early tone.

Former Blackhawks goalie Ray Emery dies in early morning drowning

Former Blackhawks goalie Ray Emery dies in early morning drowning

Former Blackhawks goaltender Ray Emery was identified as the victim in an early morning drowning on Sunday at the Hamilton Harbour, Hamilton Police confirmed. He was 35.

According to the Hamilton Spectator, Emery and his friends jumped in the water around 6:30 a.m., but Emery never resurfaced. His body was recovered later in the afternoon.

Emery played in the NHL for 11 seasons, two of which came with the Blackhawks from 2011-13, where he served as a backup goaltender to Corey Crawford.

In 2013, he teammated up with Crawford to win the William M. Jennings Trophy, awarded to the goaltender(s) with the fewest goals against in a single season, before going on to capture his first Stanley Cup. During that season, Emery went 17-1-0 with a 1.94 goals against average, .922 save percentage and three shutouts.

The Blackhawks issued this statement following the confirmation:

The Chicago Blackhawks organization was deeply saddened to hear of Ray Emery’s passing. We extend our heartfelt condolences to his family and friends. The Blackhawks will fondly remember Ray as a fierce competitor, a good teammate and a Stanley Cup champion.

The hockey community took to Twitter to offer their condolences when news began to spread: