2009-2010 Player Preview: #5 Niklas Hjalmarsson aka Ham Sandwich

The player previews continue with everyone’s favorite Swedish stay-at-home defenseman- Ham Sandwich.

2008-2009 Recap

The season started off promising for Ham Sandwich as he opened the year with the big squad and seemed to solidify his spot among the top 6 defenseman.  Then five minutes into the opening game against the New York Rangers, he injured his ribs. 

Five months later and after a couple injuries to the Hawks defensive corps, Ham Sandwich made his glorious return.  He didn’t light up the scoreboard only tallying a goal and two assists but his steady defensive play was refreshing.

After Joel Quenneville mercifully pulled the plug on the Matt Walker-Brian Campbell defensive pairing in March, it was Ham Sandwich that was asked to be Campbell’s partner.  Though they couldn’t be more different as defensemen, they complemented each other beautifully.  Ham Sandwich was even credited in some corners for helping to turn Campbell’s season around.

As a 21 year-old defenseman, Ham Sandwich played with the poise and calm of a 10 year veteran.  There were countless times when a defenseman of his age bracket would have panicked and given the puck away.  Not Sandwich though, he had no problem holding on to the puck for that extra split second to make the correct play – even if it meant an opposing player was going to put him in another time zone.  

In the playoffs, Pat Foley and Doc Emrick each singled him out for his terrific and steady defensive play.  They both remarked how incredible it was to see someone of his age play with a steadying calm under tremondously stressful situations.   

Ham Sandwich’s 2009-’10 will be a success if…

He plays his first full season with the Blackhawks.  It seemed that last year Ham Sandwich would be with the team for the long haul.  Then he got hurt, the head coach got fired, and he had to prove himself all over again.  Well, consider Quenneville sold on him.  The only problem is, as an undersized defenseman who seems to get his bell rung on a weekly basis, can his body take the punishment of a full NHL season?  

Brian Campbell doesn’t hear any boo birds.  It’s a bit unfair to put this burden on Ham Sandwich, but he proved in a small sample size last year, he is fully capable of handling the bulk of the defensive responsibilities while his partner is trying to set the scoreboard on fire.  While Walker was hypnotized by Campbell’s offensive skills into thinking he could be an offensive force too, Ham Sandwich let Campbell do his thing and stayed at home to make sure nothing got past him.  There’s no guarantee that these two will be matched up again next year, though it’s difficult to imagine them playing with anybody else. 

Ham Sandwich’s 2009-10 will be a disappointment if…

Adding an offensive dimension to his game is all he cares about.  No one is going to confuse Ham Sandwich with Mike Green at this point.  There have been many times during his brief tenure that Sandwich sacrafices offensive chances in order to make the safe play.  The coaching staff has said they’d like to see him develop an offensive game to become a better all-around defenseman.   In theory, this is a terrific idea, but what if he just doesn’t have it in him and it starts to affect his defensive play?  Then, the best young stay-at-home defenseman in the Hawks’ system will become a huge liability.

He’s not a regular on the second penalty killing unit.  After going through the last half of the season and post-season, Ham Sandwich should be more than capable of holding his own on the penalty kill.  With Brent Seabrook and Duncan Keith on the first unit, Sandwich should be the anchor on the second unit.  If he isn’t, that will mean Cam Barker or Brent Sopel is.  That’s probably not a good thing.

______________________________________________

I’ve said on occasion that if Ham Sandwich ever discovers an offensive game, look out.  With his defensive prowess, putting up some points would make him a prime Norris Trophy candidate.  Unfortunately, that may never happen. 

At this juncture, it appears as though this might be who he is – a steady defenseman with limited offensive skills.  Not that there’s anything wrong with that. 

Now, if we can only make sure he plays a full season….

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