Crawford on Oduya: "It's great news — we love that guy"

Dallas Stars general manager Jim Nill called Johnny Oduya “the last piece of the puzzle” when he signed the veteran defenseman to a two-year contract during the 2015 off-season.

Of course, it’s easy to be optimistic in the middle of summer, but in reality Oduya and Patrick Sharp weren’t enough to lead Dallas to the promised land.

So, less than two years later, it’s Oduya who has found himself back in Chicago as perhaps “the last piece” of the Blackhawks’ puzzle in their quest to claim a fourth Stanley Cup in eight years.

“It’s great news. We love that guy,” said goalie Corey Crawford before the Hawks took on Pittsburgh at the United Center on Wednesday. “He works hard, he’s a great teammate to have and we’re excited to get him back.”

Oduya was due to meet the media at 4:15 p.m. but will not play against the Penguins. The 35-year-old is coming off an ankle injury that cost him six weeks, and coach Joel Quenneville wants to make sure the veteran D-man is 100 percent.

“Jim Nill was great about that,” said Hawks general manager Stan Bowman. “He allowed our top doctor to talk to their doctor and their trainer so we’re comfortable with that.”

In Oduya, the Hawks not only bring in a player with 783 NHL games under his belt, but he’s also a veteran of 102 playoff games — 71 of which came with the Blackhawks from 2012-15. Oduya’s strengths lie in being a shutdown defender who Quenneville can deploy to help shut down any of an opposing team’s lines.

Bowman said Oduya’s familiarity with the Hawks’ system was a factor in making the trade, but there was certainly more to it than that.

“You have to like what (a player) can do on the ice,” Bowman said. “In Johnny’s case, he’s still playing at a high level. … He trains very, very hard.

“So, that was the one thing we thought of. As these guys get older, sometimes they aren’t able to play at the (same) speed or pace … but that’s not the case for Johnny. He’s playing just as well now as he did a couple years ago.”

Quenneville said Oduya will likely play with Niklas Hjalmarsson once Hjalmarsson returns from his upper-body injury. It’s also very possible that Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook will be the Hawks’ top pairing.

Oduya isn’t the most vocal player in the room, although good friend Marcus Kruger did admit he’s not afraid to speak up in-between shifts.

“He’s really funny. He thinks before he says something instead of the other way around,” Kruger said. “He’s maybe not the loudest guy … in the locker room, but when he says something everyone’s listening.”

Said Crawford: “You see him during some games over the years and you realize how strong defensively he is. And once in a while he throws a big shot in there for a big goal.

“He’s a guy that just battles hard, blocks shots, and he’s just a solid D-man to have for a stretch (run) to win the Stanley Cup.”

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Source: Sports

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