CHICAGO – The Chicago Blackhawks will return to the ice on Thursday evening after being off for four days, and when they do there will be a familiar face on the United Center ice. Fan favorite Johnny Oduya, who the Blackhawks re-acquired in a trade with the Dallas Stars on February 28, will make his return to the Blackhawks according to Head Coach Joel Quenneville.
Quenneville confirmed to the media on Wednesday morning that Oduya was in fact ready to go, and would be in the Blackhawks lineup when they host the Anaheim Ducks on Thursday evening at the United Center. The 35-year-old defenseman was nursing a knee injury that he suffered in mid-January with the Stars since being acquired by the Hawks at the end of February.
Oduya spent parts of four seasons with the Blackhawks from 2012 to 2015, and played a key role in two of the Blackhawks last three Stanley Cup Championships in 2013, and again in 2015 before departing for Dallas in free-agency. Oduya played in 219 regular season games with Chicago, recording 43 points (9G/34A), and also appeared in 71 playoff games, recording 23 points (5G/18A) during that span.
Oduya will begin his second run with the Blackhawks paired with his old line-mate Niklas Hjalmarsson on Thursday evening, with Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook reunited on the top defensive line in front of them, and some combination of Brian Campbell, Michal Kempny, Michael Rozsival and Trevor Van Riemsdyk behind the one time shut-down pairing.
The addition of Oduya gives the Blackhawks added depth on the defensive side, something that the Blackhawks have always lacked even during their best years of the current era. Blackhawks winger Patrick Kane likes the added depth that the Blackhawks now have and had this to say about the unit,
“The defense looks pretty deep back there,” Kane said. “Even when we won in 2015, you had those four guys [playing a lot of minutes]. Now you add guys like [Brian] Campbell, and Rozsival’s healthy, [Trevor] van Riemsdyk’s playing at a high level, and [Michal] Kempny’s been a good surprise, too. You have eight defensemen that could probably be in a lot of team’s lineups.”
The Blackhawks come off of their mini-break red-hot and chasing down the Minnesota Wild for the top spot in the Western Conference, nearing full strength across the entire roster, and excited to enter the final leg of the regular season riding that momentum. The Blackhawks trail the Wild by one point entering play on Wednesday night, with the Wild leading the Central Division and Western Conference with 90 points to the Blackhawks 89.
Winners of 12 of their last 13 games the Blackhawks will host the Ducks on Thursday night before heading to Detroit on Friday night, and then back home for a match-up with the Wild on Sunday, one that could end with the Blackhawks back on top in the Western Conference if they continue to play like they have as of late.
Head Coach Joel Quenneville described his feelings on a full-house during Wednesday’s morning skate,
“It’s a good sign,” Quenneville said. “It was a good practice, a good pace, and certainly the most guys we had on the ice in one practice all year.”
The Blackhawks are in a very good place heading into the stretch run, a position that we haven’t seen heading into the playoffs before in terms of depth and health when it comes to the current Blackhawks era.