Joakim Nordstrom figured that first game or two was going to be an adjustment.
The 21-year-old Swede was a surprise selection out of the Chicago Blackhawks’ training camp, but he took his lumps in those first few games. Very little experience on North American-size ice and playing against the NHL elite will do that to you. But with each passing game, Nordstrom is feeling better — and it’s showing.
Nordstrom scored his first NHL goal on Friday night and has been improving his all-around game through his first five matchups with the Blackhawks. There have been a lot of adjustments for Nordstrom, whose 11 games with the Rockford IceHogs last season were basically his lone experience on the smaller North American ice heading into this season. That was the biggest hurdle.
“It’s also playing against, and with, better players. And with the smaller ice surface, you just have to be quicker out there,” said Nordstrom, who is feeling better by the game. “I guess I kind of felt (like I was improving) before I got that puck in. Every shift felt good.”
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Coach Joel Quenneville said Nordstrom’s been improving.
“He’s coming off a couple of nice games for us,” Quenneville said. “He’s got good speed, good instincts and it’s nice to see him score as well. We saw him more in a defensive role but he’s getting good looks in the offensive zone. He’s doing some things we’re pleased with and he’s having a good start.”
Nordstrom was on the Blackhawks’ third line with Brandon Saad and Andrew Shaw on Monday, where he’ll likely suit up when the team plays against the Carolina Hurricanes tomorrow night. He’s already been part of Quenneville’s line shuffles, starting on the fourth line, playing both wing and his natural center position, and now playing on the third.
He said he takes the same approach, no matter the line he’s assigned.
“What I have to do out there is skate hard, work hard and do my best every shift,” he said.
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The teammates he’s played with thus far have been impressed.
“He has confidence,” Bryan Bickell said. “He’s going for checks, going into the dirty areas. He looks good. He uses his speed well, is a good defensive player and has a little offense, too.”
Marcus Kruger’s known Nordstrom for some time. Nordstrom played for Kruger’s father during his teenage years, and with Kruger’s younger brother.
“He’s done a great job so far and he’s just getting better and better,” Kruger said. “Every game’s been a improvement. It looks like he’s played here for a while.”
Nordstrom got through his early rough patches. As a rookie, especially with the Europe-to-American hockey adjustments, he’s going to have them. But Nordstrom is learning from his mistakes and hopes to keep ramping up his game.