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No. 800 for Hjalmarsson

'Hammer' solidifying status as an all-time Swedish defenseman

by Alex Kinkopf @AEKinkopf / Arizona Coyotes

To date, Coyotes defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson has blocked 1,564 shots. He's "been around the block(s)."

But that is not the only significant number in his 14-year NHL career.

Tonight, Hjalmarsson, Coyotes' alternate captain, will play in his 800th game in Los Angeles when the Coyotes face off against the Kings, 8 p.m., at STAPLES Center.

It is a notable benchmark for the player known as "Hammer" to fans, teammates, and opponents, alike.

"It's something that I'm very proud of," Hjalmarsson said. "800 games is a lot of games. I didn't think that (would happen) growing up where I'm from, way out in the countryside. I'm very proud. I've had a lot of fun along the way and opportunities to play with a lot of good players. A lot of great friends and a lot of great memories."

Hjalmarsson hails from the 15th-century town of Eksjö, Sweden, which features a small - yet proud -- population of less than 10,000.

"(The 800th game) is a big milestone," said head coach Rick Tocchet, who has been behind the bench for 176 of Hjalmarsson's 799 games.

"Three (Stanley) Cups in Chicago, that's a hell of a thing to have, to be a three-time Stanley Cup champion," Tocchet said. "Elite penalty killer and shot blocker, those are the little things, the unsung hero things that nobody talks about or really appreciates."

Hjalmarsson is the 14th Swedish defenseman to reach the 800-game milestone.

"I'm sure in 10 or 15 years I'll be down to almost 100 the way Sweden produces defensemen nowadays." Hjalmarsson said. "For now, it's pretty good, I guess."

But it's not only about the games for Hjalmarsson. It's people, places and things.

"I've been to a lot of places," he said. "I'm thankful for (the places hockey has taken me), most of the U.S. and Canada. I've had a lot of fun experiences. It's about the experience along the way, the places you've seen and the people you've met. It's been a lot of fun, but also a lot of hard work."

Hjalmarsson recognizes he's never been an offensive threat. He says he developed his hard-nosed, stay-at-home style of play early in his career, when he realized that blocking shots - and being good at it - was a surefire way to stay in the lineup. 

"He's willing to block a shot," said Tocchet. "Penalty kills are about blocking shots. It seems when (the puck) goes on (his) side, the other team's reluctant to shoot it. They want it to get to the other side because he blocks those shots. He does a hell of a job."

Said Hjalmarsson: "It's something that I've always done since I started playing. I'm just trying to do whatever I can to prevent the other team from scoring goals. I feel like I have succeeded in that. I'm not thinking about it too much. It just comes naturally. But at the same time, when you think about it, it's barely two blocks a game. So, it's not that many."

He ranks 19th in blocked shots since the NHL began tracking the statistic prior to the 2005-06 season.

Hjalmarsson is playing his fourth season with the Coyotes. He has come to love playing in the desert, after being traded from the Chicago Blackhawks in 2017, with whom he began his career and played 10 seasons -- winning three Stanley Cups.

"The trade, especially when you've been with a team for that long, it was tough to get traded, to be honest with you," Hjalmarsson said. "It took me a while to realize that I wasn't going to play there and go into a new city and move."

Looking back, he feels very fortunate for the change.

"What an experience that is," he said. "Coming from where I'm from, to have my kids grow up here, too, and go to school and live the lifestyle here. It's something that I will carry with me for the rest of my life."

Hjalmarsson foresees a bright future for desert hockey.

"I feel there are a lot of opportunities here for hockey to grow," he said. "Just looking at youth hockey and how popular that is. Hopefully, we can get the crowd back in the arena here sooner than later, start building some momentum and start to get a successful team."

Asked if he thinks he will reach the 900- or 1,000-game milestones, Hjalmarsson, 33, who is in the final year of his contract with the Coyotes, admits to some uncertainty.

"I guess we'll see," he said. "I'm just going to try and play as hard as I can and help out the team as I usually try to help out the team. We'll see whatever happens after the season. I try not to think about it too much. 

"I'm just trying to focus on the next game."

Number 800.

Lead Photo Credit: Chase Agnello-Dean - NHLI via Getty Images // Second Photo Credit: Richard A. Whittaker - Icon Sportswire via Getty Images // Third Photo Credit: Kevin Sousa - NHLI via Getty Images // Fourth Photo Credit: Christian Petersen - Getty Images // Footer Photo Credit: Christian Petersen - Getty Images

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