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Rick Nash returns 'home' to join Blue Jackets front office

Former captain has been learning the ropes, now starts role as special assistant to GM

by Jeff Svoboda @JacketsInsider / BlueJackets.com

For Rick Nash, the urge to stay involved in hockey was never far away. 

Luckily, the opportunity to do so wasn't, either. 

After Nash chose to retire this past season, he returned to his residence in Columbus, where he was quickly welcomed back into the fold by Blue Jackets management. 

Now, he is Blue Jackets management, having been announced as a special assistant to general manager Jarmo Kekalainen as part of a bevy of front office moves announced Thursday

It's the perfect fit of player and team, and it comes at the right time for Nash, who spent nine of his 15 NHL seasons with the Blue Jackets after being chosen No. 1 overall in the 2002 draft by the franchise. 

"It's come full circle," he told BlueJackets.com. "Even though I loved my time in New York, Columbus was always home. It just feels like this is the way I should cap off a career is moving back here and working with the Jackets." 

Video: Rick Nash Ceremonial Puck Drop

Once Nash officially decided to call it a career this winter, he found someone willing to introduce him to the front office life in Kekalainen. Since Nash was welcomed back to Nationwide Arena with a pregame ceremony before a January game against the New York Rangers, he's spent time around the team, sitting in on meetings before the trade deadline, watching the first playoff run in franchise history, then tripping with Kekalainen to Slovakia in Mayfor the World Championships. 

Next up, he'll be with the team in an official capacity at the NHL draft next week in Vancouver and part of the braintrust as the Jackets attack free agency.  

"I was talking to a lot of people in the business that I've crossed paths with along the way, and it just felt like the right avenue for me was to get into management," he said. "I just liked that side of the sport and I've always been intrigued by it -- how teams are built, why certain teams are successful.  

"The one surprise has been how much goes into it, not only at that exact time, but two, three, four years down the road. Everything is being planned out with the contracts, and you have draft picks coming in and thinking they can play. So it's been awesome (to learn)." 

As for what Nash's job duties will include, the team announced the franchise's all-time leading scorer will assist with "player evaluations, prospect development and player recruitment." 

Obviously, having someone who has excelled at the level of Nash will add an element of experience to the front office, and it's not hard to see a lot of areas where he'll be able to lend a hand.  

"I think when you play over 1,000 games in the National Hockey League and in the Olympics and the World Championships and everywhere he's been and the experience that he brings and knowing what it takes to win and knowing what it takes to have a career like that, I think that in itself is a lot of knowledge and experience," Kekalainen said. 

"I think the best scouting you can ever do is playing with and playing against the players. I think he's going to be a real asset for us as an ambassador for the organization and for the city of Columbus. He's eager to learn. He's eager to work. He's not just coming here to shake hands and so forth. He's coming here to learn and wants to roll up his sleeves and work."

For his part, Nash said he's already gaining valuable experience while working with CBJ leadership like Kekalainen.

"I went to Worlds with Jarmo and we watched some of the players, we watched some of our picks, some guys we think might have a shot for next year," Nash said. "I'm learning from Jarmo, what he's looking for, how he sees things. I'm giving my advice, being fresh out of the game on the players that I see. We're going to the draft next week here, so I'm kind of learning that side of it. 

"For me, I'm learning a lot more about the younger players that when you're playing in the league, you don't have that much time to do that stuff and it's not your job title. Now I'm looking forward to learning about all the young players coming in. Obviously this year we don't have too many draft picks, but I think I'm just going to be there for Jarmo and Bill (Zito) and help out any way I can. Whatever they need done is going to come to me." 

Nash finished his career a season ago with Boston, where he was traded at the deadline after having spent five-plus seasons with the New York Rangers. He was traded from Columbus to New York in the summer of 2012 having completely transformed the CBJ record book. 

The team moved up to draft him No. 1 overall in 2002 and he didn't take long to make an impact, scoring a goal in his first-ever game. A year later, in 2003-04, he scored 41 goals, a mark still tied for the franchise record and a total that allowed him to win the Rocket Richard trophy for most in the NHL that season. 

He quickly was a star, filling highlight reels, and soon was a captain, leading the team to its first-ever playoff appearance during the 2008-09 season, even scoring the goal that would clinch the postseason spot. Nash still holds the Blue Jackets record for games played (674), is well ahead of anyone else in all three major scoring categories (289-258-547), and made five All-Star Games and two of his three Olympic appearances as a Blue Jacket. 

Through it all, his name became synonymous with Blue Jackets hockey, and the chance to return to the organization has given him a front-row seat to see the current development of the franchise. 

"It's nice to see the Blue Jackets have some success now," he said. "For my kids to be huge Blue Jackets fans to me being a part of the organization, I'm really grateful for this opportunity. 

"I have known for the past six years that Columbus was a hard place to come in and play, and Nationwide Arena was a tough place to get two points," he added. "After playing all those years with Columbus and having that relationship with the team, it's nice to see the fans have a great team and a great product on the ice. It's what Columbus hockey fans deserve." 

Now, Nash joins the organization and has the opportunity to help keep that momentum growing.  

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