Eric Nystrom, as everyone knows by now, was acquired from the Minnesota Wild a week after he was placed on re-entry waivers and could have been had for half price. The Stars, owing to the Rangers sending Sean Avery to the minor leagues, were in need of his full cap hit to just make the floor at the start of the season.
For two and a half months it looked like a genius pickup that kept the Stars in the thick of the race. Nystrom was placed with Vernon Fiddler and Radek Dvorak nearly from their first practice and the chemistry was undeniable. His seven November goals helped carry Dallas through some lean times offensively and netted them points in the standings they wouldn't have had otherwise.
His infectious personality and energy, the "Nystache", the goals, the tweets...It all seemed to fit naturally into the fun narrative of the first half of the season, but that was the problem. It was just the first half of the season.
10 of Nystrom's 16 goals came in just 17 games spanning October 27th to December 3rd. In his remaining 53 games he scored six times, and went goal-less over the last 14 games of the season, recording a -7 as the Stars collapsed down the stretch. It wasn't just him, obviously. There are many such stories up and down the roster.
Goal scoring was not his responsibility, of course, so when the offense dried up his task at hand remained, and that was checking some of the Western Conference's best in the hard of winter. As we've detailed time and time again (most notably as Josh did here) the numbers tell us unequivocally that the trio simply didn't handle it as well as the coaching staff had hoped, and were driven back far more often than not. When they did possess the puck and cycle in the offensive zone there were far too few "scoring chances" to show for the effort as the season wore on, to say nothing of actual production.
Down the stretch, as has been said time and time again, the Fiddler/Nystrom trio had to be reassigned mid-game, with Jamie Benn and his line-mates being tasked with containing other team's top threats. On the road teams had their pick of matching up with Ribeiro or Fiddler's line. The results were disastrous at times, and Jamie Benn was stuck playing defense instead of doing what he does best.
Dallas feels they have addressed these issues with a trickle-down effect, acquiring talent to play in the top-six (Roy, Jagr, Whitney) that allows Brenden Morrow, Tomas Vincour, Cody Eakin and perhaps Nystrom to comprise a third line with some possession skills that can free Gulutzan's hands a bit.
The question is where Nystrom fits when the season opens (I know, I know...) in Glen Gulutzan's view. Chances are he isn't going to pot 16 goals again, but he will see important checking assignments. Chemistry will play a vital role in sorting out the bottom-six.
With the unlikelihood that Brenden Morrow will receieve anything perceived as "fourth line minutes", is Eric Nystrom destined to reunite with Vernon Fiddler on the fourth line, with Tom Wandell and Ryan Gabutt rotating in on the right side, or can he regain his early season form and earn a more covetable place in the lineup?
One area of impact for Nystrom could be special teams. With the departures of Radek Dvorak, Steve Ott and Adam Burish, Nystrom is third among remaining Stars forwards in penalty kill time last season at 1:19 per game. Cody Eakin and Derek Roy (when he's able) will likely see PK duty but Nystrom could still be in for an increase along side Vernon Fiddler. If the two play fourth line minutes they'll be fresh when Gulutzan needs killers.
What are your expectations for Nystrom's season? Maybe we'll actually have half a season now... Maybe.