SUN Hockey Pool

Nystrom's knocking

RANDY SPORTAK -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 9:00 AM ET

Eric Nystrom can put together a depth chart at Calgary Flames camp.

Nystrom, the left-winger drafted in the first-round in 2002, knows the team is pretty much set as far as forward positions, with 13 of them already on one-way deals.

Which means, barring a veteran being traded, there are likely no spots available for players like him knocking on the door.

Frustrating? A little. But that's life when you're trying to make the NHL.

"It's a tough team to crack the past two years but that's out of my control," Nystrom said.

"The only thing I can do is go out and play as hard as I can and impress the coaching staff as much as I can. There's a lot of depth within the organization and that's a good thing. At the same time, it's tough for a young player to get in there. You definitely have to earn it and that's something the Flames can pride themselves in."

A chance to push open that door even a little will likely come for him tonight, when the Flames host Vancouver in a pre-season clash.

Nystrom hadn't heard after yesterday's practice whether he'd be playing but was hoping to receive a tap on the shoulder.

His parents -- father Bob won four Stanley Cups with the New York Islanders in the 1980s -- and grandmother are in Calgary for a few days with the hopes of seeing him skate on 'Dome ice.

He did play seven of the eight pre-season games last fall and skated in a couple of regular-season tilts.

To say he's excited is an understatement.

"To get a chance to play any NHL game, whether it's exhibition or regular season, is awesome," Nystrom said. "It's kinda hard not to be nervous, not to be antsy. I'm pumped."

Eager to display a different side of his game, too.

Defensively responsible, Nystrom showed in his audition last season a penchant to immediately go into left-wing lock position even when he should have been forechecking.

"It's hard to break an old habit," explained Nystrom, who played in a rigid system at college.

"It was four years of playing a defensive mode and always sitting back. I had no problem being the first guy in (the zone) but when I wasn't the first guy, I was backing up. The coaching staff was on me to get more assertive in the offensive zone, taking the puck to the net, and when that happened it started to pay off."

Which he parlayed into a stronger second half last season, finishing with 15 goals and 18 assists in 78 AHL clashes.

"I've gotten a lot more offensive minded, maybe making a little riskier play," he said.

"I'm always pretty safe and make that safe play a lot but if you want to get some points, put the puck in the net, sometimes you've got to make a little riskier play. That's something I want to do responsibly, not by hanging at the redline. I've worked on my total all-around game."

Maybe it'll be worth a NHL job once training camp ends. If not, he can hope to be the first thought for a call-up.

Besides, Nystrom is only in his second pro season and knows he still has plenty to learn.

"It was a way bigger adjustment than I thought it was gonna be. It really was," he admitted. "You've got to learn the pro game. It took me a while to get my feet wet and get into a groove. I can't tell you how much better I've gotten.

"It's better to adjust than be rushed into things," he added before pausing to point out, "But you don't want to get eased in too slow."


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