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Blackhawks getting Hjalmarsson back for stretch run

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CHICAGO (AP) Niklas Hjalmarsson loves playing for the Chicago Blackhawks. He doesn’t like watching their games very much.

The 29-year-old Hjalmarsson is skating again and is expected to return Thursday night against Anaheim, giving Chicago a boost as it tries to chase down Minnesota for the Central Division title and top spot in the Western Conference. The durable defenseman has been sidelined for four straight games with an upper-body injury after missing a total of two games in the previous three seasons. He was activated by the team Wednesday.

“It was a long time ago I missed this many games in a row,” he said. “I don’t like watching the games. When you’re not playing you kind of feel like you should be out there.”

Hjalmarsson is one of several NHL players coming back from injuries who could affect the playoff races down the stretch. Washington forward Andre Burakovsky could return this month after being sidelined by a right hand injury. Tampa Bay captain Steven Stamkos, who had knee surgery in mid-November, is skating and doing hockey drills, but the team hasn’t said whether he’ll attempt to play again this season.

Los Angeles goaltender Jonathan Quick, New York Islanders defenseman Travis Hamonic and Philadelphia forward Travis Konecny recently returned to the ice, giving their respective teams a lift as they fight for playoff positioning.

“It’s going to take some time and I’m not going to be frustrated right away when I’m not getting things going my way,” said Konecny, who had a goal and an assist in Tuesday night’s 6-3 win at Buffalo in his second game back after being sidelined by a leg injury. “But I need to slowly get back into things. It’s going to take a little bit, but it’s just good to be back on the ice.”

Overshadowed by Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook among Chicago’s defensemen, Hjalmarsson remains a key part of the team’s chances for a fourth Stanley Cup title since 2010. He has a career-high five goals in 60 games and ranks among the league leaders with 156 blocked shots.

Chicago (42-18-5) has won seven straight and 12 of 13, prompting Hjalmarsson to wonder aloud if there would be room for him against the Ducks. But it’s clear coach Joel Quenneville is looking forward to his return, and the rest just might help Hjalmarsson with the Blackhawks facing a busy schedule for the last part of the regular season.

“He gets beat up a little bit, but you never see him or hear him complain, and he finds a way to fight through it all,” Quenneville said. “This one kept him off the ice for a little bit, but let’s make sure that he’s more than ready to come back. But you know you always got his competitiveness down the stretch.”

Chicago also could get another Swedish defenseman back against the Ducks, with Johnny Oduya on track for a reunion with Hjalmarsson after they played together in the Blackhawks’ run to the 2015 NHL title. Oduya, who was reacquired in a trade with Dallas on Feb. 28, has been resting an ankle injury.

“The guys that played with him here when he was here the last time, I think all of us got super excited,” Hjalmarsson said of the Oduya trade. “We know what kind of guy he is and we know what type of game he brings the team.”

Kings give another kid a look, recall AHL All-Star Brodzinski

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Last summer, Kings head coach Darryl Sutter stressed that some of the club’s young prospects needed to make an impact at the NHL level.

And now it’s happening.

Following the recalls and NHL debuts of Adrian Kempe and Paul LaDue, the Kings have brought up Jonny Brodzinski from AHL Ontario, the club announced on Thursday.

Brodzinski, 23, made the AHL All-Star team this year and leads the Reign in goals, with 25 through 56 games. The former St. Could State sniper left school early two years ago to join the Kings organization, after L.A. took him in the fifth round of the ’13 draft.

As mentioned above, this recall is in lockstep with what’s developed throughout the year. Kempe, 20, was the club’s first-round pick (29th overall) in ’14 and has fared well since joining the big club, with six points in 16 games.

LaDue, 24, was a sixth-round pick in ’12 that — like Kempe and Brodzinski — fared well in the American League before getting recalled in February. LaDue has appeared in 15 games for the Kings, scoring five points while averaging 16:25 TOI per night.

Los Angeles is still technically in the playoff race, but sits eight points back of Nashville for the final wild card spot in the Western Conference — with just 10 games to play. As such, the focus might now shift to giving some youngsters NHL experience.

Brodzinski will have to wait for his, however. Per LA Kings Insider, it doesn’t look like he’ll play tonight, when the Kings host the Jets at Staples.

 

 

Polak gets two games for boarding Bjorkstrand

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Roman Polak‘s hit on Oliver Bjorkstrand has drawn more than the ire of Blue Jackets head coach John Tortorella.

Today, the NHL announced that Polak, a defenseman for the Toronto Maple Leafs, has been suspended two games for boarding Bjorkstrand Wednesday in Columbus.

In making the ruling, the league’s Department of Player Safety determined that Polak sent Bjorkstrand “violently” into the boards from behind, causing an injury. The DoPS also noted that the hit was avoidable, with the onus on Polak to “ensure that he avoids this hit entirely, or at the very least, minimizes the force of the impact.”

You can watch the full ruling below:

Wild prospect Kunin leaves Wisconsin, turns pro

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Minnesota is getting one of its prized youngsters in the mix.

Luke Kunin, the club’s first-round pick (15th overall) at last year’s draft, is leaving the University of Wisconsin following his sophomore campaign, per the Star-Tribune. Kunin will reportedly join Minnesota’s AHL affiliate in Iowa on an amateur tryout.

Kunin, 19, is coming off a pretty successful campaign. He was the first soph to captain the Badgers in over 40 years, and led the team in goals (22) and points (38). That came after he captained the U.S. to gold at the world juniors, scoring four points in seven games.

Per TSN’s Bob McKenzie, Kunin will play out this year in the minors, and his entry-level deal will kick in next season. That means he won’t be with the Wild at all this year — regular season or playoffs.

As mentioned, Kunin is just one of the many talented prospects Minnesota has in the fold. Russian Kirill Kaprizov, Sweden’s Joel Eriksson-Ek and Kunin’s U.S. junior teammate, Jordan Greenway, all showed extremely well at the worlds.

Hurricanes sign Finnish prospect Kuokkanen

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The Carolina Hurricanes have another talented, young Finn under contract.

The ‘Canes announced this morning that they’ve signed forward Janne Kuokkanen to a three-year, entry-level contract.

Kuokkanen was drafted in the second round, 43rd overall, in 2016. The 18-year-old is currently with the OHL’s London Knights. He finished the regular season with 26 goals and 36 assists in 60 games.

“Janne was outstanding in our rookie tournament in Traverse City in September, and stayed in North America to continue his development in the Ontario Hockey League,” said ‘Canes GM Ron Francis in a release. “He’s a smart, skilled forward and we look forward to the start of his professional career.”

The ‘Canes already have two Finnish forwards in Sebastian Aho and Teuvo Teravainen.

Aho and Kuokkanen were teammates in the Karpat (Liiga) development system in Finland.