Niklas Hjalmarsson, defenseman
2014-15 cap hit: $4.1 million | Age: 28 | Season stats: 3 goals, 16 assists, plus-25
Season recap: Hjalmarsson again proved to be one of the league’s premier defensemen. He was again relied heavily upon in the defensive zone and didn’t let the Blackhawks down. He ranked 18th among defensemen with 498 defensive zone faceoff starts and 12th with a plus-17 goal differential. Only Hjalmarsson, Roman Josi, Shea Weber, Andrei Markov and P.K. Subban ranked in the top 20 in both categories. Hjalmarsson also came through in the playoffs and averaged 26:02 of ice time and led the Blackhawks with 66 blocked shots.
Season highlight: Hjalmarsson played a large role in the Blackhawks sweeping the Minnesota Wild in the second round. He was on the ice for zero goals against in 5-on-5 play during the four-game series.
Season lowlight: Hjalmarsson had a nine-game stretch from mid-December to early January where he had a minus-6 goal differential.
Final grade: A.
Inside the numbers: Hjalmarsson was on the ice for two goals against in 13 games in the entire month of March.
Quotes: Hjalmarsson after the playoffs: “I can admit that [I was tired]. You just try to stay positive while you’re in, try to find ways to get energy. But it was a tough one. It was a tough run, but it’s obviously worth every single drop of sweat when you reach the goal.”
What’s next: Hjalmarsson will again be a key piece to the Blackhawks’ defense next season. He has four more years remaining on his contract. Depending on who the Blackhawks re-sign and bring in, Hjalmarsson could return to the left side next season.