Battalion Breakdown is a closer look at the Blue Jackets' past season on a player-by-player basis. Today, BlueJackets.com continues the series by looking at Riley Nash's season and how it impacted Columbus in the 2018-19 campaign.
Birth date: May 9, 1989
Height/Weight: 6-1, 190
Stats (Games, G-A-P, point shares): 78 GP, 3-9-12, -0.2 PS
Contract: Signed through 2020-21 season
No one would tell you Riley Nash's first season in Columbus was what he wanted -- especially Riley Nash.
Whether it was adjusting to new surroundings or trying too hard to make an impact after signing a contract as a free agent in the summer of 2018, Nash had just four points when the calendar flipped from 2018 to '19.
"I think it's just a new situation, get off ot a slow start and then you start kind of squeezing the stick a little bit and it snowballs from there," Nash said. "It can snowball in a good direction or a bad one and this year for the first half it wasn't going in the right direction."
The good news is that Nash looked like a different player as the season went on, even if the points weren't always there. He was then a key part of the playoff roster until leaving when he was crunched by Zdeno Chara in Game 2 of the Boston series.
Entering the season: Nash looked like a solid free agency acquisition after posting career highs of 15 goals and 41 points with Boston in 2017-18. Add in excellent possession numbers and the ability to kill penalties and Nash, who had started his career with Carolina before heading to Boston, appeared to be a good economical option to add to the team's center depth.
What happened: Instead, the difficult start happened. Nash slowly fell down the lineup as he struggled to find his footing, losing special teams time and being moved out of the center spot as he was winning around 45.0 percent of draws.
Slowly but surely, though, he started to find his game. It never really came out on the scoresheet, as he never had more than three points in a month, but Nash did become more and more noticeable as the season went on.
He was key down the stretch with a big goal in the late-season win vs. Montreal that put the Jackets in playoff position, then adding a tally in the first round vs. Tampa Bay. Nash also paired with Brandon Dubinsky and Boone Jenner on a heavy line that proved to be hard to play against in the defensive zone.
The hope is that now, fully comfortable, Nash will bring more to the table in 2019-20.
"He broke through at the end, and more than anything I respected the way he handled himself as a teammate through all his struggles and how professional he was through the whole thing," general manager Jarmo Kekalainen said. "I think he made believers of the coaching staff that he's going to be a key player for us in the most important games of the year. That's a great way to sort of build a bridge from this season to the next and start from scratch."
All the goals against Tampa Bay were huge, but Nash's tally in Game 2 was one of the critical tallies. Columbus held a 3-0 lead through two periods of that game vs. the Bolts, but the Lightning scored early in the third. If Tampa Bay could have tallied again, momentum would have fully been on its side, but Nash didn't let it happen. After Jenner forced a turnover, he found Nash rampaging down the slot, and his shot beat Andrei Vasilevskiy to ice the win, and Columbus never looked back from there.
Video: CBJ@TBL, Gm2: Nash picks the corner on Vasilevskiy
By the Numbers
6.1: Nash still had a positive expected goal differential on the season, finishing with a plus-6.1 margin (35.5 xGF to 29.3 xGA).
10:50: Nash played just 10:50 per game a year after playing 15:25 per contest with the Bruins in 2017-18.
70.1: Nash's defensive zone start percentage at even strenght was 70.1, showing he took on much more of a defensive role as the season went on.