He's 27 years old, and Eric Nystrom has been around hockey for all of them. Now entering his fourth season in the National Hockey League, it appears the new Wild winger starts fresh in an entirely new organization.
After being drafted 10th overall by the Flames in the 2002 Entry Draft, Nystrom's road to Calgary wasn't easy -- especially for someone with his pedigree. His father Bob won four Stanley Cups as a member of the New York Islanders in the late 1970s and early 80s. Nystrom is also a veteran of numerous international tournaments and was captain of the Michigan Wolverines -- one of college hockey's most storied programs.
Despite his high draft position, he didn't see his first significant time in the NHL for six years, when he skated in 76 games. Last season, he played in all 82, posting career highs in goals, assists and points.
Despite coming off a career year, Nystrom believes the time was right for a change, and his new home could be the site of a breakout campaign.
"At the beginning of my career, I didn't get a lot of ice time," Nystrom said. "Last year, I got some and I increased my production and I'm happy about that. But it's a new year and I need to continue to improve."
In Calgary, Nystrom gained a reputation as a physical player -- but one that can also contribute in the offensive end, similar to a Cal Clutterbuck
. Like Clutterbuck, Nystrom gained a fan following because of his role as an agitator -- one that teams hate playing against but love in their own locker room.
"I play a physical game and try to be as valuable as I can on both ends of the ice," Nystrom said. "I like to chip in offensively and bring some energy and try to be a good guy in the locker room."
After spending all of his young career in Calgary, moving to Minnesota will certainly be an adjustment for the Syosset, N.Y. native. Moving back to his home country may be the most difficult part of the move though, as Nystrom is intimately familiar with the foes Minnesota will face all season.
"It's nice to have some sort of idea of what you're going up against," he said. "But at the same time, teams are so different from year to year, it seems like only a few guys stick around every year."
Playing in Calgary wasn't Nystrom's first experience playing away from home though. A veteran of two World Junior Championship teams in 2002 and 2003, as well as a World Under-18 Championship and a World Championship, Nystrom has a bunch of experience representing his country abroad.
"It's always fun to go to a country and see the best of what other nations have to offer," Nystrom said. "It's a great learning experience."
Speaking of learning, Nystrom spent four years at the University of Michigan, where he graduated in 2005 with a degree in Liberal Arts. On the ice, Nystrom was a captain his senior season and scored 111 points in 160 career games under the tutelage of the legendary Red Berenson.
"Just an amazing experience," Nystrom said. "I learned so much, not just as a hockey player, but as a person. He's a great coach and he's done everything there is to do in the hockey world. He taught me so much about the game."
As he enters the prime of his career, Nystrom hopes to join his father in putting the family name on the Stanley Cup.
"It's what we all play the game for," Nystrom said. "[My father] was fortunate enough to play on a great team and he had a great career. Like any guy in the league, we all want to win that thing."