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'Yotes Notes: Hjalmarsson Nears Return to Lineup

Defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson could be back on the ice Thursday vs. Nashville

by Dave Vest @davest4yotes / Coyotes Sr. Director of News Content

GLENDALE -- Niklas Hjalmarsson practiced with teammates for a third time on Tuesday and is nearing a return to the lineup. 

Per Head Coach Rick Tocchet, Hjalmarsson, who has been sidelined since Nov. 28 because of an upper-body injury, might make his return as soon as Thursday when Arizona hosts Nashville to start the second half of its season.

"I wouldn't say he's definitely out," Tocchet said after Tuesday's practice. "Obviously he's getting closer. He's practiced with us the last couple days and that's helped. We just want to make sure that he's definitely ready. He's itching to get back in, but we want to make sure that he's healthy where he can stay in the lineup for a while." 

Hjalmarsson, whom Tocchet named an alternate captain in training camp, has missed 24 of Arizona's 41 games this season because of injuries. In 17 games, he chipped in four assists and 40 blocked shots. That's 2.35 blocked shots per game - a team high.

Hjalmarsson was paired with recent call-up Kyle Capobianco at Tuesday's practice. 

Meanwhile, forward Brad Richardson skated with teammates on Tuesday and also is nearing a return to the lineup. Richardson hasn't played since suffering an upper-body injury on Dec. 23.

• The Coyotes begin the second half of their 82-game schedule on Thursday vs. Nashville at Gila River Arena. It will be the first of just nine games on their schedule in January, a month that includes the team's official "bye week" and the break for the NHL All-Star Game.

Tocchet is preaching a one-game-at-a-time mentality for the rest of the season. 

"I think the short-term goals for this team outweigh the long-term goals," Tocchet said. "You can't look too far ahead with this team, I think ... This team is a team that works extremely hard, but it still has to learn how to win."

The Coyotes will practice again on Wednesday for a third consecutive day.

"We need practice," Tocchet said. "We're not good enough and we need practice. I told the guys (on Monday) that I need a good attitude these next three practices and they were great practices (on Monday and Tuesday). I'm proud of the way they worked. They worked really hard. No slumped shoulders or negativity. That was a positive, and it goes a long way."

• Tocchet has liked what he has seen from Max Domi since Domi recently started playing center.

"His defensive play has been really good down low," Tocchet said. "He understands the 'D' zone coverage and he's done a really nice job down low. Now he's got to translate that to the offensive part when it's time to transition. It's going to take some time."  

• The Coyotes on Tuesday announced the termination of forward Emerson Etem's contract. Etem, 25, recently informed the organization that he no longer wanted to play in the American Hockey League, where he notched four goals and one assist in 16 games for Tucson this season. The Coyotes signed Etem to a one-year deal last summer.

• Prospect Tyler Steenbergen skated 10:10 and chipped in an assist for Canada on Tuesday during its 8-2 win over Switzerland in the quarterfinals of the 2018 IIHF World Junior Championship in Buffalo. Steenbergen has notched one assist in five games during the tournament, and has taken four shots on goal.

• Mike Van Ryn, the head coach of the team's American Hockey League affiliate in Tucson, has been named a coach for the 2018 AHL All-Star Classic later this month. Van Ryn has guided Tucson to a 16-9-2-1 record this season, his first as the team's bench boss.

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