Throughout the summer, Blackhawks general manager Stan Bowman and coach Joel Quenneville spoke highly of a handful of young players who were primed to crack the NHL roster.
They never mentioned Joakim Nordstrom. But as Quenneville closes in on his opening-night roster, the 21-year-old Swede has forced his way into the discussion, and is one of 26 men left on the roster with just three cuts to go.
“He’s had a good camp,” Quenneville said. “I like his speed. For a young guy, he’s got good instincts both sides of the puck. I thought he did a good job penalty killing in the situations he’s been in. Marcus [Kruger] had some nice chemistry with him. He’s really progressed from where he was about a year ago. He looks like he’s made a big jump. I would have to consider him in the mix.”
The Hawks are still looking for someone to replace Michael Frolik as Kruger’s penalty-killing partner. Nordstrom, a third-round pick in the 2010 draft, killed penalties in the Swedish Elite League for two years before joining Rockford for 11 games last season. Nordstrom has played seven minutes of shorthanded ice time in four preseason games, with the Hawks allowing two power-play goals with him on the ice. But Nordstrom and Kruger, both Swedes, have an easy rapport which Quenneville has noticed.
“I hang out a lot with him and he helps me a lot, so he’s easy to play with,” Nordstrom said of Kruger. “Both on and off the ice, he supports me and it makes it a lot easier.”
At Wednesday’s practice, Nordstrom found himself on the fourth line with Brandon Bollig and Kruger. With Marian Hossa (upper body) still out (Quenneville now hopes he’ll return to the ice on Thursday), Jimmy Hayes was on the second line and Ben Smith was on the third line. Brandon Pirri and Jeremy Morin were on the extra fifth line. Nordstrom didn’t want to read too much into it, but said, “This is where I want to be, so of course it feels good.”
Quenneville reiterated that he’s likely going to keep eight defensemen, so either Ryan Stanton or Mike Kostka will make the team. With Hayes and Smith seeming like locks, that leaves one roster spot for Morin, Pirri and Nordstrom to fight over.