Back in October, Eric Nystrom headed to Dallas. But, really, he was headed on a mission.
That is his word: mission.
"To prove I can not only just play but score goals in this league," Nystrom explained. "Be a force in games."
Nystrom is a hard-working winger who broke into the NHL with Calgary. Before last season, coming off a 19-point year with the Flames, he signed a three-year, $4.2 million deal with the Wild, then had his worst season -- only four goals and a minus-16 in 82 games.
So Nystrom came to camp last fall looking to rebound, getting a new opportunity with a new Wild coach. But, two days before the opener, after skating with the fourth line throughout camp, Nystrom was waived. Nobody claimed him. And then the Wild made a number-crunching deal with Dallas to shed the final $2.8 million of Nystrom's deal. The Stars needed to add salary to stay above the salary cap floor.
It was a move of convenience. Or motivation, depending on how you look at it.
"I had prepared to have a good year," said Nystrom, who will be back in town Saturday in Dallas' game against the Wild. "I was ready to bounce back. It was a hiccup season; we all have hiccups. We all have an off year. But ... I feel I was given up on. When you go through waivers, and nobody wants you. You know what? I'm on a mission."
So far, so good.
For most of the season, Nystrom has skated on the Stars' third line, with center Vernon Fiddler and right winger Radek Dvorak, and the three have clicked. Nystrom had a career-high 13 goals and had 16 points in 40 games heading into the Stars' game with Tampa Bay on Friday night. Put that in perspective: Nystrom's previous high was 11 in 82 games with Calgary in 2009-10. Those 13 goals put him even with Wild leader Dany Heatley.
That looks like a motivated player.
"He's done really well," Wild coach Mike Yeo said. "I talked to him after he went there and he said that was going to be the case. ... I'm not surprised."
Nystrom isn't hiding the fact he feels the Wild gave up on him too quickly. Yes, last season was difficult. As the goals didn't come, Nystrom got frustrated, and it snowballed.
"I know this is a business," he said. "They make moves on what they think will help their team. And they didn't see me as a part of the picture there. I thought I'd thrive under the new coach with a fresh, clean slate. I think I felt a little betrayed. I didn't see it coming, being waived that early on, not given a chance to bounce back. I wasn't happy about that. I'm excited to come back and play in that building. The fans are awesome."
Fact is, the move worked out as well as possible for Nystrom, who went to a new team and took advantage of that clean slate. Nystrom said he immersed himself in Stars coach Glen Gulutzan's system instead of just worrying about scoring. Of course, that's when the goals started coming. All 13 of his goals have come at even strength for a Stars team that is 10th in the Western Conference, one spot below the Wild.
"It's amazing how the stars aligned," Nystrom said. "I got a chance to start fresh. When I got there, I was so comfortable I felt like I'd been there five years. It's good to contribute. ... When you look at it, Minnesota traded me for nothing, basically. When you get traded for nothing, you say, 'Man, I have no value in this league.' I'm trying to prove I do have value."