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NHL Draft memories: Rick Nash

Nash looks back at being chosen No. 1 overall by the Blue Jackets

by Jeff Svoboda @JacketsInsider / BlueJackets.com

When Rick Nash went to bed the night of June 21 in Toronto, he knew the wanted to be picked by the Columbus Blue Jackets in the NHL Draft the next day. 

He also knew the Blue Jackets wanted to draft him. 

Yet he still didn't think he'd be a Columbus Blue Jacket when the draft was all said and done. 

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Simply put, it just didn't look like it was going to work out for the Blue Jackets and the native of Brampton, Ontario, who figured to be drafted near the top at the spectacle taking place about an hour from his childhood home. 

The Blue Jackets entered the draft with the third overall pick, and what were the odds the big, skilled forward who had starred with the London Knights would drop that far? 

"I remember meeting with Columbus the night before the draft and (general manager) Doug MacLean, and Columbus had the third pick," Nash said recently. "He said, 'We really want you, but we think someone is going to trade up to get you.'" 

To Nash, the hope was that would be the Blue Jackets.  

"For kids coming up in the draft, you kind of look at the depth charts and see where you fit in best, and my best fit was for the Blue Jackets," Nash remembered. "I remember Doug saying he's going to try to make a move, and I said, 'I hope you trade up and get me.'" 

Perhaps that was all MacLean needed to hear. Florida had the No. 1 overall pick with Atlanta at No. 2. Nash was rated the No. 2 North American skater available behind swift-skating defenseman Jay Bouwmeester, who had been widely expected to go No. 1 overall after standing out with Medicine Hat of the WHL as well as on the Canadian national junior teams. 

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Also in the mix were goalie Kari Lehtonen and defenseman Joni Pitkanen of Finland, as well as Russian winger Alex Semin and American defenseman Ryan Whitney. 

But to many, Bouwmeester was the pick. MacLean, though, wasn't like many. With Nash slotted No. 1 on his draft board, MacLean wanted to make sure he wasn't leaving Toronto without his man, agreeing to swap his No. 3 overall pick to the Panthers for the No. 1 overall choice. 

As it turned out, the Panthers wanted Bouwmeester, anyway, and Atlanta was taking Lehtonen. All sides satisfied, MacLean stepped to the stage and announced Nash would be the first -- and to this day, the last -- No. 1 overall pick in Blue Jackets history. 

"We've had him No. 1 all year,'' MacLean told the media. "It's very rare you get a chance for the first overall pick and control your own destiny. We just felt it was the right thing to do.'' 

Nash wouldn't argue. As he was waiting for the draft to begin at what was then known as the Air Canada Centre, he was greeted by a media member with big news. 

"I remember it was probably about 10 minutes before the draft started and one of the reporters, Gino Reda of TSN, came running up to me and said Columbus just made a trade for the first pick overall," Nash said. "I was like, 'Wow. Doug followed through.' I've always had an appreciation for Doug. He started it -- he put me in this spot and in this city." 

Of course, it turned out to be a pretty good decision for the Blue Jackets. Nash immediately became a standout, scoring in his first NHL game and leading the league in goals a year later. He went on to completely rewrite the CBJ record books and still holds the franchise records for games, goals and points. 

And his career has come full circle, as Nash was hired last week as special assistant to general manager Jarmo Kekalainen, where he will fulfill a variety of roles in the Blue Jackets' front office. This weekend, he'll be in Vancouver for the NHL draft, where he will see a handful of new Blue Jackets picked from the other side of the stage. 

It'll be one of the first steps in the next part of his journey, one Nash can't wait to get started. 

"It's turned out to be a pretty amazing career, and hopefully this new role goes well as well," he said. 

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