Simon Hjalmarsson – no relation to Niklas of the Chicago Blackhawks, by the way – always wanted to play in the NHL, and he used five years in the Swedish Hockey League to help prepare him for the next opportunity.
Drafted in 2007 by the St. Louis Blues, where current Blue Jackets GM Jarmo Kekalainen and president of hockey operations John Davidson both worked at the time, Hjalmarsson was admittedly a one-dimensional player. He was all offense and had to learn the defensive side of the game, especially if he ever wanted to make a living in the NHL.
The Blues didn’t sign him and he re-entered the draft and went undrafted in 2009, so Hjalmarsson decided to head back to Sweden and work on his game in the SHL. He played with three teams (Rogle, Lulea and Linkoping) before re-appearing on the NHL radar.
This time around, Hjalmarsson feels fully prepared and is excited about the prospect of playing in the best league in the world.
“My main goal has always been to play over here,” Hjalmarsson told BlueJackets.com. “I knew that maybe it would take a bit longer for me than other players, but I always kept the same goal. I wanted to get back here whether it was one or five years – I didn’t know exactly when – but when I was ready, I wanted to do it.
“This year, I feel ready…I felt ready last year, too, but this year was that last bit of encouragement that (coming to the NHL) was my next step. I’m really confident that I can play here.”
Hjalmarsson attended Blues development camps for three consecutive years before returning to Sweden, and that’s when he really got to know both Kekalainen and Davidson. They’d seen him play many times leading up to his draft year, and more recently, Kekalainen saw Hjalmarsson in the IIHF World Championship in Belarus where he won a bronze medal with Sweden.
After the SHL playoffs wrapped up (Hjalmarsson had 4-5-9 in 14 playoff games for Linkoping), the Blue Jackets got serious in their pursuit of Hjalmarsson, who had reportedly received interest from the Chicago Blackhawks.
It didn’t take long to decide that the Blue Jackets were his preferred destination, Hjalmarsson said, and earlier this week he caught a flight to Columbus to take his physical and make it official.
Familiarity with the Blue Jackets management team played a big role in his decision to sign in Columbus, Hjalmarsson said, but in addition, he and the team both see his style of play as one that could help the Blue Jackets right away.
“I was really excited when I heard they wanted me to come over here…it was an easy decision for me,” Hjalmarsson said. “I think my game has grown a lot. In my draft year, I was strictly an offensive player and now I have more of a two-way game. I play almost all the penalty kills, and over the past five years, I’ve managed to become a solid two-way player and I knew that I’d have to become that if I wanted to play in the NHL.
“That’s something I’ve been working on, and I think it’s become a lot better. I played almost 20 minutes a night over in Sweden, including power play and penalty kill, so I think I’ve learned to play all roles and be a complete player.”