GLENDALE - There are multiple interesting story lines surrounding Arizona's game vs. Chicago on Saturday night at Gila River Arena.
Coyotes defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson playing against his former team for the first time is at the top of the list.
Video: Hjalmarsson on Facing Chicago
"It's going to be a special game," Hjalmarsson said Friday, the day before he skates against the team for whom he helped win the Stanley Cup three times. "It's going to be a little weird in the beginning, I bet, to face my old teammates. It's all new and I'm looking forward to the game."
Chicago drafted Hjalmarsson 108th overall in 2005 and he played 623 games for the Blackhawks before being traded to the Coyotes last June after 10 seasons of service. Hjalmarsson is eager to skate against former teammates and pals Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Patrick Sharp, et al, for the first time.
"I think Chicago's top-six forwards are up there with the best, so that's always a fun challenge to try to keep them off the scoring sheet," Hjalmarsson said. "It's going to be a tough one tomorrow but, honestly, I just want to get that first win out of the way. That's going to be the main focus."
Coyotes Head Coach Rick Tocchet has raved about Hjalmarsson's professionalism since the first day of training camp and because of it, and his championship pedigree, named Hjalmarsson a permanent alternate captain for the season, along with Oliver Ekman-Larsson. Hjalmarsson has enjoyed playing for Tocchet.
"He's been great," Hjalmarsson said. "You almost feel a little bit guilty, too, not being able to give him that first win, so we really want to give him that one. Hopefully we can do that soon … I think he's been doing a tremendous job here, keeping the spirits up."
Hjalmarsson, who played 128 games in the Stanley Cup Playoffs with Chicago, was asked which of the three championships he won while there means the most to him.
His response: "All of them are pretty amazing, but the first one (in 2010), with everything like the parade and all that stuff after, everything was for the first time, so you kind of didn't know what to expect. Eveybody on the team was a little younger and maybe a little wilder, and it was a lot of fun right after we won the first one there."
Hjalmarsson, who leads Arizona with 14 blocked shots, did not play to have dinner with any of his former teammates on Friday, but he's looking forward to seeing them on the ice on Saturday.
"Obviously, all the guys I won the three Cups with, I'm always going to have an extremely special bond to those guys," Hjalmarsson said. "We've been through so many battles together, with all the ups and downs, (we've) pretty much grown up together. I spent my whole 20s with those guys, so those guys are always going to be extremely special for me."
So, does one former teammate stand above the rest among Hjalmarsson's pals?
"I always love my goalie so I've got to say Corey (Crawford)," Hjalmarsson said with a smile. "Corey saved my (butt) a lot of times. He's always going to be a close friend to me."