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Hjalmarsson close to returning to Coyotes lineup

Defenseman hasn't played since fourth game of season because of lower-body injury

by Mike Battaglino / Staff Writer

Niklas Hjalmarsson is likely to return to the Arizona Coyotes lineup before the NHL All-Star break after the defenseman has been out since early October with a lower-body injury.

"He's really close," Arizona coach Rick Tocchet said Friday. "It could be next game, it could be the game after, I don't know, but it's really close."

Hjalmarsson was injured blocking a shot against the Colorado Avalanche on Oct. 12, the Coyotes' fourth game of the season. Arizona (25-18-4) lost 3-0 at the Carolina Hurricanes on Friday and next plays against the Pittsburgh Penguins on Sunday.

"He's chomping at the bit," Tocchet said. "He's like a bull, he wants us to open up that gate. That's going to be a big boost for us. We're really looking forward to him, and [goalie Darcy Kuemper], those two guys are like two all-star guys coming back in your lineup."

Kuemper has not played since Dec. 19 because of a lower-body injury, and Tocchet said he does not expect him to play before the All-Star break. Kuemper was named to the Pacific Division team for the 2020 Honda NHL All-Star Game on Jan. 25.

"Darcy is going to have to practice with us more than once or twice for him to get back in the lineup," Tocchet said.

Hjalmarsson scored his first goal in 94 games in a 4-1 win against the Vegas Golden Knights on Oct. 10. He played 82 games for the Coyotes last season and had 10 assists.

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