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Coyotes’ Hjalmarsson on his 2-year extension: ‘I think I have a lot to prove’

(AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

Niklas Hjalmarsson took it hard when the Chicago Blackhawks traded him to the Arizona Coyotes last summer for defenseman Connor Murphy and center Laurent Dauphin. He had played his entire 10-season career with the Hawks, and he played a central and underappreciated role in their three Stanley Cup runs.

When the Coyotes got off to rocky start and Hjalmarsson experienced an assortment of injuries, the longing grew more pronounced, but it abated quickly when the team starting playing better. That’s when Hjalmarsson decided he’d like to stick around in Arizona beyond the conclusion of his contract in 2018-19.

“I don’t really know the exact timeline but I told them pretty quickly that I was interested in re-signing with the Coyotes,” he said on a conference call from Sweden on Sunday. “I felt like it was a great place for me in this stage of my career.”

Hjalmarsson, 31, officially signed a two-year contract extension worth $10 million on Sunday. He has one year left on his previous contract with a cap hit of $4.1 million. The new deal will kick in the following season and keep him under contract through the 2020-21 season.

“I felt pretty quickly that I really liked everybody around the organization, the staff the management and obviously the players on the team,” Hjalmarsson added. “Even though we had a really rough start and overall, not a great season last year, I still see potential in the group and in the organization. I really want to be a part of getting the Coyotes back to the playoffs. That’s my main goal with re-signing. I see that as a mission that I want to be part of.”

With Kevin Connauton agreeing to a two-year, $2.75 million contract earlier this week, the Coyotes have their top six defensemen from last season under contract. The others are Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Alex Goligoski, Jason Demers and Jakob Chychrun. Luke Schenn, a free agent, was expected to sign with another team. General manager John Chayka said he expects one of the team’s young prospects (Robbie Russo, Ilya Lyubushkin, Trevor Murphy, Kyle Capobianco) to challenge for the No. 7 spot.

“I think we have a good mix on the back end,” Hjalmarsson said. “We can’t have any excuses not to have a good goals against average or anything like that. It’s up to us to play to our potential.”

Hjalmarsson played in just 48 games last season (one goal, nine points) due to an assortment of injuries, leading to the external perception that his body was breaking down. In the previous five seasons, however, he missed a combined 13 games.

“I think I have a lot to prove,” he said. “I wasn’t happy with the way I played last year, being injured for most of the year. I’m very motivated to have a really good season.

“My body feels better than in a long time. I definitely won’t have any excuses to not have a season like I had before I was injured; when I was with the Blackhawks. That’s what I expect from myself for the next three years to just come back to being a guy that [Rick Tocchet] and the coaches can trust every game, every shift — just be a good defensive player for the team and at the same time be a leader and help the young guys out.”

From the start of training camp, Tocchet pointed to Hjalmarsson as an example of how he would like his players to approach their job, on and off the ice.

“It’s huge for us to have a professional guy like him in our dressing room,” Tocchet said. “He’s a guy that’s not afraid to tell you ‘Hey I had a bad game.’ There is ownership in his game that is outstanding. I like that about him and I’m glad that he’s on our team.”

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