All season long, it was apparent that the Blackhawks needed a second-pairing defenseman. Nick Leddy wasn't ready to carry the load, and Niklas Hjalmarsson has proven to be a shot blocker first, and all else second.
As the season went on, guys like Pavel Kubina, Hal Gill and Tom Gilbert slipped past the Hawks. Veterans like Francois Beauchemin and Andy Sutton signed extensions, taking them off the trade market.
With time winding down on the trade deadline clock, Stan Bowman traded his second and third-round selections in the 2013 NHL draft for Winnipeg's Johnny Oduya. Since then, the Hawks have seemingly found the spark they've been missing, and are on a roll.
Oduya's addition was with the sole belief that he could not only get the Hawks into the postseason, but help them go far in the playoffs.
In Winnipeg, Johnny Oduya was skating relatively large minutes for a third-pairing defenseman, and came over to the Hawks averaging about 18 minutes per game.
Since coming to Chicago, Oduya has averaged 23:53 per game, only once dipping below the 20-minute mark in seven games. Those have been good minutes too, as he's got a plus-2 rating in that time, notching a goal and two assists.
While those aren't the most eye-popping numbers, what really counts is how much pressure it takes off of Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook. Having them at full strength during the postseason will be huge for the Hawks if they want to go far.
With the exception of his first game, in which he was skating with Brent Seabrook, Oduya has found a comfortable home on the second pairing with youngster Nick Leddy. Oduya seems to be able to hide any youthful mistakes by Leddy, while still allowing him to showcase his abilities.
The move also bumped youngster Dylan Olsen to the third pairing, lining him up with Niklas Hjalmarsson and giving the Hawks a shutdown defensive pairing for the first time in what seems like ages. It also keeps Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook together for what is easily one of the top pairings in the NHL.
Being able to roll three consistent pairs that play well is part of a very standard formula for success at any level of the NHL.
While Oduya's acquisition initially seemed like a last fall-back option with the likes of Pavel Kubina and Hal Gill having slipped away, Oduya now seems like he was handpicked by Bowman and the rest of the front office.
His style of play adds the physicality Chicago lacked without sacrificing the mobility and smooth skating they so relish. While most deadline acquisitions usually take some time to mesh with their new team, Oduya seems to have picked up on the system that Quenneville and his assistants want to implement.
Having a full defensive corps that looks like they've played together for years forecasts positively for the Hawks' future.
Remember, European players are soft.
When Steve Montador went down with an injury, the Blackhawks' blue line took a major blow to its physicality. It was left up to the likes of John Scott and Dylan Olsen to join Brent Seabrook as the D-men who weren't going to be pushed around.
However, Olsen is simply too young for this role and Scott can't play a whole lot of defense, so neither one really fit the picture. Hjalmarsson can to an extent, but his injuries the last couple of seasons surely hamper what he's willing to do.
Oduya isn't one to back down from a challenge, yet, he's not going to rack up a ton of PIMs. Despite huge totals during his junior days, Oduya has focused on his skills on the ice rather than watching the game from the penalty box. In 452 NHL games, Oduya only has 222 penalty minutes, a very modest total.
Should someone like Alexandre Burrows decide to pull one of their stunts, don't be surprised to see Oduya drop the gloves and stick up for his teammates.
Oduya reached the playoffs in six straight seasons, his last appearance was in 2009 with New Jersey.
Counting his time in the Swedish Elite League, from the 2003-04 season to the 08-09 season, Johnny Oduya did not miss the postseason. While he only has 18 postseason games in the NHL, the experience is there, as he reached the playoffs in his first three NHL seasons with the Devils.
On a team with a good number of players with limited playoff experience—including fellow defensemen Nick Leddy and Dylan Olsen—Oduya's playoff experience will help. In his final season in the Swedish Elite League—and his lone season with Vastra Frolunda in the SEL—Oduya appeared in 17 postseason games.
Oduya's playoff experiences—and team failures—will both help the team and motivate him to try and get the Blackhawks their second Stanley Cup in three seasons.