100 goals. 22 years old. Just over three full seasons. Rick Nash has posted impressive numbers in his young, promising NHL career, about as impressive as his imposing figure in front of the net.
At 6-foot-4, 215 pounds, the big-framed Nash scored his 100th goal Saturday against the Chicago Blackhawks and famed goaltender Nikolai Khabibulin. “Nasher” has scored more goals than any other who has suited up for the CBJ.
“It’s nice to be able to say you’ve got 100 goals in the NHL,” Nash said, downplaying the achievement.
Just “nice?” The left winger’s modesty stems from the fact that 100 goals is likely the first of many plateaus the young star will reach. His 41 goals in 2003-04 topped the NHL along with Atlanta’s Ilya Kovalchuk and Calgary’s Jarome Iginla, earning Nash the Maurice “Rocket” Richard trophy and a trip to the All-Star Game. Injured for much of last year, Nash still notched 31 goals in 54 games.
Fellow Blue Jacket and linemate David Vyborny, who is second to Nash in team career goals, said the Ontario native is just getting started.
“I know he can score more goals in this league, maybe 3, 4, 500,” he said.
Vyborny’s projections reflect those of players, coaches and scouts all over the league, who recognize that Nash has a goal-scorer’s mentality. When he’s anywhere around the net, he has a sense of where to position himself so that he can slap the puck past the goaltender. Some of his lamp-lightings have made highlight reels, but many others come from patience and gritty play on the offensive end.
“If you watch Sportscenter or the highlights every night, you see most of the goals coming from the front of the net,” Nash said. “You know if you’re going to go there, you’re going to pay the price, but you’re going to get rewarded with goals.”
Clearly, Nash has gotten the knack of how to use his size to his advantage. He said that physical strength helps him get free from defenders, and because “the ‘D’ can’t grab you and hold you down” anymore, he can control the puck better.
Veteran teammate Fredrik Modin, like Nash, stands taller than most NHL forwards. The Swedish left-winger, in his ninth season in the NHL, says the 22-year-old Nash has few peers.
“When he gets the puck and just takes it to the net, I don’t know if there’s anyone who can top him,” Modin said.
Vyborny and Modin assisted on Nash’s nifty wraparound power-play goal late in the first period. The horn brought 17,288 fans to their feet and spurred a raucous ovation, and why wouldn’t it? The franchise has put No. 61 at the center of its development.
“For them to stand up and cheer for me, it means a lot,” Nash said, acknowledging the bond Jackets fans have made with him.
Though Nash’s contribution on offense is huge, his understanding of the game might be even bigger.
“That’s what complements the new NHL. You can be any size and be a star in the league.”