When the Carolina Hurricanes traded for Kris Versteeg and Joakim Nordstrom in September, Nordstrom was the “other guy” in the deal with the Chicago Blackhawks.
Versteeg was the forward the Canes wanted, an experienced, two-time Stanley Cup winner. Nordstrom was packaged into the trade as the Blackhawks, squeezed by the NHL salary cap, looked to shed as much salary as possible.
Almost six months later, Versteeg is gone, traded Sunday to the Los Angeles Kings. Nordstrom is playing left wing on the Canes’ top line and had the game-winning goal Tuesday against the New Jersey Devils, when he was named the game’s first star.
“What I like about him is his upside offensively and just how passionate he is when he plays,” Canes coach Bill Peters said Friday. “He plays the game hard, he plays it properly and he’s got the right DNA to stay here for a long time.”
Nordstrom, 24, was drafted by the Blackhawks in 2010 and had one goal and five assists in 54 games spread over two NHL seasons. The Stockholm native now has nine goals and 12 assists in 54 games this season for the Hurricanes.
“I think I’ve taken some big steps this year and become a better player,” Nordstrom said Friday.
With the Canes and Devils locked in a 1-1 tie in the final two minutes of the third period Tuesday, he followed up a shot by Elias Lindholm, quickly going backhand to forehand to whip a shot past goalie Cory Schneider. The Canes won 3-1 as Nathan Gerbe added an empty netter.
I was given the opportunity here, and a little more of an offensive role than in Chicago, and I think I really took it.
Canes forward Joakim Nordstrom
Nordstrom has been playing on the line centered by Jordan Staal that has emerged as the Canes’ best in all three zones. Andrej Nestrasil was the other winger until suffering a back injury last week, and Lindholm was moved to right wing against New Jersey – the “Staal & the Swedes” line.
Staal said he knew little of Nordstrom when the trade was made Sept. 11. Versteeg was well-known in the league. Nordstrom was just another name.
“I’ve learned he’s a heck of a player,” Staal said Friday. “He’s got such great speed. He’s got good smarts. And as we’ve seen in the last few, he’s got a great shot. I think he’s really coming into his own and playing confidently and well for us.”
Nordstrom had a three-game goal streak late last month. With the goal Tuesday, he has scored in four of the past seven games.
But that’s a bonus of sorts. Nordstrom kills penalties. He backchecks well and is quick to loose pucks. His plus-4 plus/minus rating is second only to Staal’s plus-7 on the team.
“He makes my job a lot easier,” Staal said. “He opens up the ice and he creates a hard forecheck and creates turnovers.”
Nordstrom, in turn, said it’s easy to play with Staal, a 6-foot-4, 240-pound center who combines strength and agility.
“The way he’s playing right now he’s one of the top players in the league,” Nordstrom said. “Defensively, he’s always responsible. Offensively, he can create great scoring opportunities out of nothing with the speed and shot he has. It’s been great to play with him and learn from him.”
Losing Nestrasil to a fractured vertebra was a blow, but Lindholm fit in quickly on the right side against the Devils. Nordstrom smiled Friday in talking about how Lindholm balanced the puck on the blade of his stick for a stride or two before driving the net for the shot that Nordstrom followed up for the go-ahead goal.
Nordstrom has had hockey success. He was a member – with the Canes’ Victor Rask – of Sweden’s gold-medal winners in the 2012 IIHF World Junior Championship, ending a 31-year drought in the event for the Swedes. A year ago, he was a member of the Blackhawks’ Stanley Cup champions, playing a fairly minor role but getting his name on the Cup and receiving a ring.
Nordstrom was traded to Carolina not long after signing a one-year, two-way contract with Chicago. With a $605,000 salary, he has been a bargain for the Canes.
Nordstrom said his mother, Inger, went online after the trade to glean more information about Raleigh and North Carolina. So much was new but Nordstrom has settled in well.
“I was given the opportunity here, and a little more of an offensive role than in Chicago, and I think I really took it,” he said. “There’s still 17 games left and I just want to keep getting better.”