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Johnny Oduya hopes to help Blackhawks win again

Defenseman likely to be reunited with Niklas Hjalmarsson

by Brian Hedger / NHL.com Correspondent

CHICAGO -- It didn't take long for Chicago Blackhawks fans to welcome defenseman Johnny Oduya back home.

The veteran defenseman arrived in Chicago on Wednesday, a day after the Blackhawks reacquired him in a trade with the Dallas Stars, and there was a note waiting for him at the airport.

"It's something that's a part of you anytime there's championships involved," Oduya said of his attachment to Chicago. "Just coming into the airport, picking up my bags from the baggage claim, and there's a little note saying, 'Welcome back,' from the guys working there. Little things like that are very special. As a player, you feel very humbled, and it's a fun thing."

The Blackhawks hope there's more fun in the months ahead. They're reuniting a key part of their 2013 and 2015 championship teams, much like they did a year ago with forward Andrew Ladd, with the hope of making another run at the Stanley Cup.

Video: Oduya excited to be back with Blackhawks

The goal is for Oduya, who was acquired for forward prospect Mark McNeill and a conditional fourth-round pick the 2018 NHL Draft, to rekindle the magic he twice helped create during two previous championship runs.

"I know there's a lot of work to be done, and I don't think any of us are going to take anything for granted," said Oduya, who was not in the lineup against the Pittsburgh Penguins at United Center on Wednesday. "We want to play as hard as we can and win hockey games. That's why I'm here."

It was the second time Oduya was acquired by the Blackhawks at the trade deadline. General manager Stan Bowman got him from the Winnipeg Jets in 2012, when he began his previous tenure in Chicago.

"It's a little bit weird of a feeling, but a good one, I think," Oduya said. "It's a second chance for me to have a good finish, so I feel fortunate."

Oduya had a goal and six assists in 37 games for the Stars this season. He had 21 points (four goals, 17 assists) in 82 games with Dallas last season, after signing there as a free agent July 15, 2015.

He spent most of his previous stint with the Blackhawks paired with Niklas Hjalmarsson but also played with Brent Seabrook in the 2015 Stanley Cup Playoffs. Oduya likely will be reunited with Hjalmarsson, once Hjalmarsson returns from an upper-body injury.

Oduya and Hjalmarsson formed a potent shutdown pair when they were together. It allowed Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville to deploy them more often in defensive situations and freed up the top pair of Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook to get more starts in the offensive zone.

"They'll probably likely get the opportunity of starting on the defensive side of things a little more," Quenneville said of Oduya and Hjalmarsson. "They work well together, and around the net they're extremely capable. They kill penalties well together, and that familiarity should return quickly."

Oduya is coming off an ankle injury that sidelined him 15 games. He returned against the Boston Bruins on Sunday and played 18:28. Stars general manager Jim Nill and Bowman said Oduya is healthy, but Quenneville wants to see him skate before determining a plan to play him.

Video: Oduya ready to reunite with Hjalmarsson

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