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Blackhawks already see positives in Oduya

by Brian Hedger / Chicago Blackhawks

CHICAGO -- After catching a red-eye flight from Winnipeg on Tuesday morning, Chicago Blackhawks defenseman Johnny Oduya was on the ice for practice with his new team in the Windy City.

The 30-year-old native of Stockholm, who the Hawks acquired from the Winnipeg Jets on Monday for a pair of 2013 draft picks, said it was good just to get back on the ice.

"It was a nice skate, nice to just move around a little bit," said Oduya, who was paired with Brent Seabrook. "I didn't do too much (Monday), so it was all right. (I was) up early this morning to get here, but feel pretty good."

He looked pretty good, too, considering.

Oduya's skating ability -- which was lauded by Chicago general manager Stan Bowman on Monday -- was noticeable right away in offensive and defensive drills.

The Hawks had a void for a player with Oduya's skill set after they traded speedy, puck-moving defenseman Brian Campbell last summer to help create salary-cap space. Bowman also chose not to re-sign last season's trade deadline acquisition, Chris Campoli -- another skilled puck-mover.

Oduya brings a similar game into the mix, which potentially could help Chicago's puck-possession game. The way things were Tuesday, Oduya will log top-four minutes for the Hawks alongside Seabrook when the Hawks host the Toronto Maple Leafs (8 p.m. ET, TSN) at the United Center.

That's fine by Oduya, who said he's excited to join Chicago's array of talented players.

"I've watched them play and played against them a couple times, (but) other than that (I don't know) too much," Oduya said of his new teammates. "I know how tough it is to beat them, so it's nice to be a part of that. It's a high-skill team, an unbelievably skilled team I would say, but as always they have a system to follow, too. It's a tough team to beat and I hope I can be a part of that."

Oduya's new defense partner thinks he can, even after just one practice session.

"I think he said he left at 4 o'clock this morning, so I don't think anybody was expecting to see his best, but I think he's excited to be here," Seabrook said. "I think he had some fun with the new drills and I think he looks good."

He'll also look good on the lineup sheet for Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville during the stretch run of the season -- which finds the Hawks sixth in the Western Conference, but just three points ahead of ninth-place Colorado.

"Johnny's a defenseman we can use," Quenneville said. "We like his experience, he's happy to be here and we can use his important minutes. We like the way he moves the puck … his quickness. He's got some fellow Swedes here (who are) happy he'll be joining."

One of those Swedes is defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson -- who skated on his own Tuesday but was ruled out of Wednesday's game by Quenneville with an undisclosed upper-body injury that's kept him out nine of the last 10 games. Chicago also is without defenseman Steve Montador due to an upper-body injury.

Needless to say, Oduya’s addition comes at a good time. He certainly gives the Hawks some needed experience and depth on the back end and averaged 19:19 of ice time with the Jets -- including roughly two minutes per game killing penalties.

"It's always good when you can add somebody who can help you out in that way … play some minutes and log some big minutes and tough minutes," Seabrook said. "We need to get points, so it's going to be good to have another guy added on there and give us more depth."

Adding Oduya wasn't a splashy move, but it did send the right message to the Hawks about the upcoming finish to the regular season and then the playoffs.

"That's the biggest thing to take out of the trade deadline," Seabrook said. "If your management's making moves to better the team, that's a direct message to us that we've got to be better and we're going for it. As a group here, we've stumbled a bit lately but we've got to forget all that and just go out and play, work hard and get things done."

Oduya, an unrestricted free agent at season's end whose cap hit currently is $3.5 million, sounds up for the challenge.

"Anytime you have a team this good and they want to bring you in to see if there's a fit for you and you can help out, you appreciate it," he said. "I feel fortunate coming in here."

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