NHL.com: Nystrom a chip off the old block

by Dan Rosen || NHL.com

nystrom-cgy_200.jpgEric Nystrom isn’t quite sure what to say anymore when asked if he patterns his game after the one his father, former New York Islanders’ great Bob Nystrom, made famous in the early 1980s.

Yes, he told NHL.com, they are similar because they’re both gritty. No, he said, they’re not similar because they don’t play the same style. But wait, yes, he claimed, they are similar because like his father, Eric thinks he can to score some pretty goals, too.

Got all that?

"He was beating me up when I was younger, toughening me up," the younger Nystrom said. "I don’t think (we’re the same), but I guess it just runs in the blood. I have the same temperament as him."

He stopped his answer right there as if he knew that was enough.

It is.

Eric Nystrom may never turn in 20-goal seasons like his father did seven times in his 14-year career, but as long as he doesn’t lose that grit and willingness to muck it up, there’s no reason the kid who grew up on Long Island hearing stories of his pop’s toughness can’t have a lengthy and successful NHL career.

Fifty-two games into it, including all six playoff games against the San Jose Sharks this season, Nystrom appears on his way.

"He could develop into a player that can give us more offense, but he’s bringing energy and he’s competitive, which are part of his genetic background," Flames coach Mike Keenan said earlier this season. "His father was a fierce competitor and he is as well. He contributes to the team and the team recognizes it. His confidence will grow from the support he’s getting from his teammates."

Nystrom bounced around a bit this season and even had to overcome a lengthy jaw injury. But he was recalled from Quad City of the AHL for a second time this season on Feb. 28 and played in 10 of the Flames final 18 regular-season games.

In the final game of the regular season Nystrom popped in two goals and helped on two others for a four-point night in a 7-1 win against the Vancouver Canucks. He assisted on Jarome Iginla’s 50th goal of the season.

So Nystrom, an AHL regular just two months ago, became a mainstay on Calgary’s fourth line when the playoffs opened. He doesn’t play a ton of minutes, a little more than seven a game in fact, but they’re seven hard minutes that Calgary needs.

"That’s the role that I’m in, trying to bring as much enthusiasm and energy to the team," Nystrom said. "That’s the type of player I’ve been for a while and that’s how I fit in on this team. In college I put the puck in the net, and I think that will come in time."

Nystrom has always viewed himself as an energy guy. He was that way for two years in the United States National Team Development Program. He continued to play that energy role for four years at the University of Michigan. In each of those stops, Nystrom also put the puck in the net. He scored 56 goals at Michigan and 15 in 78 AHL games in 2005-06. His two goals on April 5 gave him a grand total of three in 44 regular-season games.

"Anything to help the team whether it’s a fight, a bit hit, or a momentum changing hit where you’re buzzing to get the other team on its heals," Nystrom counters when asked about his lack of scoring. "That’s how I have tried to produce this year. Obviously you want to put the puck in the net, but if you’re not doing that, you have to bring something else to the table."

Forget about scoring, Nystrom is simply happy he’s playing. His growth as a pro hockey player was stunted last year due to a recurring shoulder problem that shelved him for 12 AHL games. He played in two NHL games during the 2005-06 and was hoping to see more time in Calgary last season, but he instead was relegated to exercise bike duty.

"It was awful," Nystrom said.

At least he found a silver lining.

"There were days I was riding the bike and working in the weight room myself, and pushing myself and that made me mentally stronger," Nystrom said. "I watched a lot of hockey, and any time you get a chance to watch a lot you will learn a lot. I had a chance to watch a lot and learn a lot. It’s a bump in the road that I learned a lot from."

It could have severely hurt his chances of making the squad this season, but Nystrom was finally given a chance to play significant minutes on Oct. 30 and he answered with his first goal and 23 hard shifts totaling 14:36 of ice time.

"From then on, I started to get more quality ice time," Nystrom said. "I had to have a certain style so they knew when Nystrom was on the ice what they were going to get. That’s what they told me at training camp, define my identity."

Nystrom helped define his game early in the season by tangling himself in seven fights within his first 29 games.

"When you play that style there’s going to be the chance for a confrontation and you don’t want to back down," Nystrom said. "It’s certainly something I can handle. If you can skate and score it’s a bonus."

Gee, kind of sounds a little like a former Islander, huh?

Or, as Bob Nystrom can commonly be known as now, a happy dad.

"He was always good at letting me figure out the game for myself, figure out my own style," Eric Nystrom said. "He’s just so proud."