GLENDALE -- After playing just 48 games in his first season with the Coyotes, defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson vowed to himself and team management to make a greater impact in 2018-19.
He accomplished that mission.
"I think I played exactly the way I played when I had my better years in Chicago, and I'm proud with the way I came back from last year," said Hjalmarsson, one of only two Coyotes to skate in all 82 games this season. "Hopefully I can keep building on it and stay on the same level next season."
Hjalmarsson, 31, led the Coyotes and ranked second in the NHL with 187 blocked shots. He also was plus-8, which ranked second on the team, and he carried the heaviest workload, among the skaters, on the club's League-leading penalty-killing unit. He played 259:25 while Arizona was shorthanded, tops on the team by far, and third most in the NHL with regards to shorthanded ice time. Moreover, the Coyotes were 29-1-1 in the 31 games they led after two periods, and Hjalmarsson played a key role there, too.
"He's a unique player," General Manager John Chayka said. "He's the best at what he does, in terms of being a defensive defenseman. I think for how he defines success, and how we define success for him, it was a great year."
Chayka recalls how Hjalmarsson spoke to him at the end of last season, after injuries limited him to just four dozen games.
"He looked me in the eye during his exit interview last season and said, 'I'm going to be healthier and I'm going to have a big year next year,'" Chayka recalled. "And then he went out and did exactly what he said he'd do. It's inspiring, the way he plays, not only for myself but for all of our players, too ... 'Hammer' has done it all and he's won it all, and I think our guys look to him not only for his leadership but for how he prepares and how he handles himself in adversity. I think we owe him a ton, not only for what he did for us this season, but also for the direction of our organization and the culture we've established here."
Video: Hjalmarsson Discusses 2018-19 Season
Hjalmarsson, who won the Stanley Cup three times while playing for Chicago, likes the path the Coyotes are skating. In his eyes, coming within four points of making the playoffs, despite losing 380 man games to injury, is a promising feat.
"I'm proud of how hard we were battling all year with all the injuries," Hjalmarsson said. "... I felt we came together more and more after those injuries, and guys stepped up, getting more minutes and ice time, and did a great job of filling in those spots."
Fans voted Hjalmarsson the team's Hardest Working Player. It's a recognition he cherishes, especially considering he didn't score a goal in 2018-19, a first since he established himself as an NHL player a decade ago.
"I got really happy when I heard about that," Hjalmarsson said. "I pride myself on working hard, especially during the games. That's what I want the fans to see when they come watch. Maybe (I'm) not the most skilled guy, but I'll always give the effort, so I really appreciate that the fans voted me for that. It feels really good."