Niklas Hjalmarsson has wanted to bring more offense into his game for a while now.
It just wasn’t there, for whatever reason. But now, it is. And for the Chicago Blackhawks defenseman, taking some chances has led to getting those points.
Hjalmarsson is generating that offense he’s wanted to for so long, recording one fewer point in his first 18 regular-season games this season (nine) than he had in all 48 games last season. Obviously happy with the results, Hjalmarsson said he’s just been trying more things and it’s paid off.
“I guess you just get more comfortable as you get more years in the league. You don’t really care as much if you make a mistake or two. You risk a little more and don’t think about making mistakes,” he said. “I just feel more comfortable to make plays out there.”
It’s looking it. Hjalmarsson has always been a strong defensive presence, reliable in that aspect of his game. But the added offense brings an added dimension that everyone, including coach Joel Quenneville, has noticed.
“This year he’s done more with the puck, he’s had more patience with it, he’s taking some moves, gone off the point in the offensive zone and tries to make plays around the net. We haven’t seen that before,” Quenneville said. “He’s making more direct plays, and he’s exiting our zone in the middle of the ice. Defensively, we love his gap and we love how he defends. He’s just added more with the puck on his stick.”
Defensive mate Johnny Oduya likes what he’s seeing from Hjalmarsson.
“He can be up there and make plays, and he’s shown that now especially,” he said. “He has a good shot. He’s mixing in some offense, something we both try to do at times, and still being responsible and we’re backing each other up. He can get into a lot of plays. We see more from him, and that’s good.”
Hjalmarsson is firmly ensconced and a core piece of the Blackhawks, who signed him to a five-year extension in September. And perhaps that blossoming offense is part of getting more mature as a player, more confident in your game and taking risks with it. Teammates have noticed how Hjalmarsson’s game has developed over the past few seasons.
“Offensively, he has a poise right now that I didn’t see in his early years,” Marian Hossa said. “Since I joined the team, every year he’s become a better and better player. He’s so good with his stick; he’s one of the best. He’s so calm, making great plays at the right time. He looks confident and comfortable out there, too.”
Hjalmarsson also has some extra incentive this season: the Winter Olympics and a potential spot on the Swedish team’s roster.
“I didn’t make it last time, so that’s something I really want to make, of course,” he said. “Sweden has a lot of good defensemen in this league right now, so it’s going to be tough to make it. But it’s something I hopefully do.”
Hjalmarsson has been a rock defensively. He’s bringing more offensively. Yes, it’s all about the greater good, getting victories for the Blackhawks. But it’s nonetheless a good individual sign that his game is rounding out the way it is.
“It’s early, but it’s always great when you have a good start for your confidence,” he said. “I’m trying to create a little more offensively and not risk anything defensively. I’m happy with the way I’ve played so far. It’s a long season, though, so hopefully I keep going.”