The last word out of Eric Nystrom was that his NHL opportunities had dried up and he was considering retirement. The ten-year NHL veteran had been bought out by the Nashville Predators and cut from his preseason tryout deal with the St. Louis Blues, and could not find a contract – NHL, AHL, PTO or otherwise – in North America. He was considering joining his father, former NHLer Bobby Nystrom, in the insurance business. That was in early November; fast-forward to now and there has been no noise out of the Nystrom camp as no NHL teams have come calling due to injury and no foreign teams have lined up for his services. That is, until now.
Nystrom officially signed with the Oilers today (spoiler: link in Norwegian). No, not the Edmonton Oilers, but the Stavanger Oilers in Norway. Nystrom played with the team in 2012, prior to the resolution of the NHL lockout, and is now set to return. When Nystrom was there five years ago, the fans fell in love with him as he scored 14 points in just six games and dazzled the home crowd. The team is very excited to bring back not just a great talent, but also a “solid character” (translated from Norwegian). The Oilers currently sit atop the Norwegian Elite League, or “Get Ligaen” with 77 points, eight points ahead of their closest competitor. They also boast two of the league’s top three scorers in fellow Americans Mark Van Guilder and Dan Kissell, teammates at Notre Dame University in the mid-2000’s whose NCAA success didn’t translate to the pro game. However, Nystrom should step in and become the best player on the team and in the entire league right away, as the Stavanger Oilers appear poised to roll to a league championship.
Should Nystrom really impress in Norway, which in terms of international leagues is likely outside the top five in competition level, he might be able to get another shot at the NHL. He will have to really light it up, though. The tenth overall pick by the Calgary Flames in 2002, Nystrom had a long, successful career, but nowhere near the one expected of him with that selection. Nystrom made a living off of being a reliable bottom-six forward, capable of scoring 10-15 goals a year, but not much more. A hard-working, gritty player who excelled on the penalty kill and could hit and block shots, Nystrom’s value came in his two-way ability. He certainly is a “solid character” as well. However, aging defensive forwards are not at the top of NHL wish lists, and Nystrom is fresh off being bought out by Nashville after seeing his ice time cut and scoring just seven goals in 46 games last season. Unless Nystrom can change everyone’s minds with a strong offensive and defensive stint in Norway, his comeback may be limited to just the Stavanger Oilers. However, a great veteran leader with strong work ethic can often find a way.