NEW YORK — At 6-foot-1, 189 pounds, Joakim Nordstrom cuts a wiry figure, hardly the most imposing guy in a room full of bigger, bulkier guys. Yet he’s been delivering more hits per game than Andrew Shaw, Brent Seabrook and every other player on the roster except for Bryan Bickell, and in significantly less ice time most games.
“I’ve always wanted to play like this,” Nordstrom said. “I definitely feel that’s something that I’ve added this year, especially lately, trying to be a little bit more physical.”
Of course, Nordstrom took it way too far last Thursday night in Arizona, when he boarded Oliver Ekman-Larsson in the last minute, earning a two-game suspension. He returned to the lineup Wednesday against the New York Rangers. And while Quenneville obviously doesn’t want him going around boarding people, he likes the physical nature of Nordstrom’s play of late. He has 67 hits in 31 games, second only to Bickell’s 2.5 hits-per-game pace.
“His physicality has progressed as the season has gone on,” Quenneville said. “I think his quickness helps him get there quick, and with that physicality he can create disruptions and turnovers, as well as races to pucks.”
After starting the season in Rockford, and returning there twice during the season, Nordstrom didn’t figure to play a major role for the Hawks this season. But Nordstrom has cemented himself in the lineup over the past three weeks, recalled just before the Patrick Kane injury and thrust into a larger role as a penalty-killer in the wake of the Ben Smith trade. Up until his suspension, Quenneville had been tinkering with nearly every line nearly every night — except for that fourth line of Nordstrom, Marcus Kruger and Andrew Shaw. That one has stayed intact, and likely will be back together on Wednesday.
While technically still a rookie, Nordstrom no longer feels like an interloper in the Hawks dressing room. He feels like he belongs.
“That’s how I feel around the team, the locker room and out on the ice, as well,” Nordstrom said. “I feel comfortable. I’m familiar with the systems and all the guys and i feel like I’m bringing something out there on the ice.”
It’s that comfort level that has allowed him to ratchet up the physical play. He’s not a skittish newbie anymore, just trying not to mess up.
“I think I’m just more aware of where I am on the ice now, so I feel like I can add the physical stuff and still do my job defensively and backcheck,” he said.