After two stellar seasons in the Swedish Elite League, Christopher Nihlstorp decided it was time for the next challenge in his hockey career. Nihlstorp, who falls into the ‘late-bloomer’ category, is taking his shot at making the NHL at age 28.
“After the season, I was talking to Joe Nieuwendyk and Mike Valley (Stars goaltending coach), and it felt right to come over here,” Nihlstorp said. “I want to compete with the best players in the world. Now I am here, and I am excited to be here.”
The Stars signed Nihlstorp as a free agent in June. He’s coming off two excellent seasons with Farjestad in the top league in Sweden. In 2010-11, he helped lead Farjestad to the Le Mat Trophy, which goes to the champions of the Swedish Elite League. In 2011-12, he had his best individual season, posting a 1.90 goals against average and .928 save percentage in 45 games.
Nihlstorp, 28, has played the last four seasons in the Swedish Elite League
“I played for a great team in Farjestad and I had some great years there,” said Nihlstorp. “It was great to win the Cup, but last year it wasn’t as good. It was a disappointment. You want to win again, but sometimes it is hard to win two years in a row. But we did our best, and now I am looking forward to being a Dallas Star.”
The 6-3, 192-pound netminder arrived in Frisco this week to take part in Dallas Stars development camp. He’s taking his shot at 28, but Nihlstorp isn’t caught up in the age thing.
“Some guys have to take more years to develop. It takes time,” he said. “I am ready to be here.”
Valley also pointed out that the development of a goaltender can take some time, and he was quick with some examples. Minnesota’s Niklas Backstrom didn’t come to the NHL from Finland until he was 28-years-old. Tim Thomas bounced around the minors and Europe before making it to the NHL in his late 20’s.
“You see a lot of goaltenders who don’t figure it out and don’t really start maturing as goaltenders until they are in their mid- to late-20’s,” said Valley. “Everybody goes at a different rate and (Nihlstorp) may be one of those guys. Who knows where the ceiling is for him? He’s been a late-bloomer, not only to come over here, but in Sweden too. He’s come into his own and had success the last two years, and we fully expect him to do that over here as well.”
Friday’s on-ice session was the first time Valley had a chance to see Nihlstorp tend net in person. Before that, it had just been on video. He liked what he saw.
“He’s a big goaltender, he fills the net and he’s smooth,” Valley said. “He’s got a great attitude, and he fits right in with the type of goaltender we like here.”
When it comes to his style, Nihlstorp, who is one of those rare goalies who catches with his right hand, said he relies on his size, but he likes to mix things up a little as well.
“I’m like the new goalies, I am pretty big and I try to block. At the same time, I don’t want to be a robot,” he explained. “I want to play on feelings too, so I am not doing the same saves all the time. I want to be a mix of everything. I think that is the best. When you are coming to the NHL and are competing against those good players, you can’t be just a robot. You have to be more flexible in your game and make every game into your own game.”
There will be an adjustment coming to the North America. The rinks are smaller than in Europe and Friday was the first time Nihlstorp had ever been on a smaller rink.
“It’s good to be here at this camp,” he said. “It will help.”
Being from Sweden, Nihlstorp is of course an admirer of fellow Swede Henrik Lundqvist, the New York Rangers goalie who won the Vezina Trophy this past season. He’s also likes Tim Thomas.
“He’s very competitive and battles hard. I like that,” said Nihlstorp. “That’s how I want to play, with a lot of energy and battle.”
And battle is what Nihlstorp plans to do this fall when the Stars hold training camp. He has his eyes on the NHL, but he knows the competition will be stiff because the Stars are deep at the goaltending position. Those fighting for position behind No. 1 goaltender Kari Lehtonen include Richard Bachman, Jack Campbell and Tyler Beskorowany.
“We’ll see what happens after main camp. I am going to do my best and we’ll see what happens,” he said. “If I have to go to Austin, I will do that. I just want to do my best. That’s the most important thing for me.”