Chemistry doesn’t normally happen immediately in hockey. To hear Eric Nystrom tell it, there might as well have been Bunsen burners involved.
Nystrom was put on a line with veterans Vernon Fiddler and Radek Dvorak more than a month ago and the unlikely trio quickly found strangely familiar ground for the Dallas Stars.
“Honestly, it was pretty easy right off the bat,” Nystrom said. “When you have chemistry with a guy, you can’t really explain it. But for some reason, whenever I’d be open in the slot, the puck would come right there because they knew where I was going to be.
“When the puck goes to certain places, I’d be in a spot and they would know … it’s just one of those things you can’t really explain.”
Few observers could have explained or predicted that the Nystrom-Fiddler-Dvorak line would become one of the more productive third lines in the NHL.
They have combined for 13 goals and 16 assists since November, and Nystrom and Fiddler are on pace for career highs in points.
“It wasn’t any rocket scientist that put it together,” first-year Stars coach Glen Gulutzan said.
“We looked at it and thought, ‘We’ve got three guys with speed and they work hard.’ They’ve given us a good checking line. Certainly they’ve surpassed expectations offensively for us. But you’ve got three hard-working guys who take pride in how they practice and how they play and how they prepare and you see they’ve had success.”
Dvorak is a former 31-goal scorer who is on his sixth team. Fiddler is a career plugger and skilled faceoff man. Both were July 1 free-agent signings that flew rather under the radar.
Nystrom, on the other hand, has turned into one of the better stories around the league. Waived by Minnesota, he was playing for the Houston Aeros when Dallas traded for him on Oct. 12 to get off the salary cap floor.
Gulutzan sat Nystrom the first two games to get him integrated into their system. Nystrom soon put together a four-game goal-scoring streak in November and potted two against Toronto on Nov. 26.
His 10 goals are tied with Loui Eriksson for the team lead as of Monday night, and he’s 12th in the NHL with a 25.6 shooting percentage.
In other words, Nystrom is playing as if his career is on the line.
“Last year wasn’t a great year for me, and I felt that the team kind of gave up on me,” Nystrom said.
“That kind of put me on a mission to prove myself. Getting put on waivers and clearing two times, you know, that really made me get on a mission to prove that not only can I play in this league and make an impact. That’s my mindset every single practice, every single game. I’m going to keep going as hard as I can every night.”
Nystrom has always had light on him because he was the 10th overall pick in 2002, and because of his father, Bobby, a member of the New York Islanders dynasty teams of the 1980s.
“It was a tough time on my parents, too, because they knew I was disappointed, and that’s hard on them as parents to see one of their children in a tough spot,” Nystrom said.
“But I never was negative at all because my parents were there to support me, pick me up and give me encouragement. They’re so thrilled with how things shaked out and (I’ve got) a chance to be on a team with great guys and playing well. They’re very happy.”
By all accounts, Nystrom has been a welcome addition in the Stars’ room.
“Maybe he got out of the good graces in Minnesota a little bit, but (general manager) Joe (Nieuwendyk) did a good job and did his homework and checked into the background,” captain Brenden Morrow said.
“He’s a good character guy. He came into the locker room and fit in really good. I think he’s flourished under this system. The coaches have had some trust in him, and he’s earned everything he’s got.”
As far as that chemistry, Nystrom pointed out that all three of them are “straight-line guys,” which breeds predictability.
“No one has to guess,” he said. “When a guy has the puck in a certain spot, I know exactly what he’s going to do with it. He doesn’t try to do too much or do anything off the charts, and that makes it predictable. And when we’re all doing that, it’s effective.”