After years spent weighing the pros and cons, Riley Nash
has decided to turn professional.
The 21-year-old center inked a three-year, entry-level contract with Carolina on Monday, ending the most recent round of speculation concerning his future in college. He will now forego his senior season at Cornell, where he posted 102 points in 102 career games, and is expected to immediately contend for an NHL roster spot.
“I hope everyone’s goal coming into camp is to make the team, and there are going to be some other guys going for that same spot,” said Nash, who was recently in Raleigh for the team’s conditioning camp. “Nothing will come easy, especially when you’re talking about the most prestigious league in the world, but I relish the challenge.”
Nash said that there were a few factors that contributed to his decision. One was the opportunity to make the team at the start of the year, something which General Manager Jim Rutherford believes he can do. There’s also the confidence in his own readiness, which has been bolstered by an additional 20 pounds of bulk added over the last two years.
”I feel like I’ve physically matured compared to in the past,” said Nash, who checked into rookie camp at 6-foot-1 and 191 pounds. “I don’t get bounced around as easily by the bigger guys as I used to.”
All of that aside, Nash suggested that his choice remained extremely difficult.
“Anytime you give up a year of your education and leave some good friends behind, it’s going to be tough,” he said. “I’m so close (to earning a college degree), but I’ve been dreaming of the NHL my whole life. Either way, I’d have to sacrifice something to get the other.”
Nash said he had no immediate plans to complete his degree while playing professional hockey but that it was something he would like to pursue if possible. If he chooses to continue his education, he can study with fellow Hurricanes center Zac Dalpe, who left school after his sophomore year but stated plans to graduate after turning professional.
Incidentally, Dalpe is one player Nash will be competing with during training camp. Those two, along with Jeff Skinner, Jon Matsumoto and Patrick Dwyer, will be in contention for two spots at center behind Eric Staal and Brandon Sutter. There could also be opportunities on the wing if multiple players from that group excel, but Nash’s future more than likely lies at center ice due to his natural playmaking ability.
Before camp begins, the next step for Nash will be to help defend the Hurricanes’ title at the Traverse City prospects tournament, slated to begin Sept. 11 in Michigan. Led by Nash and Skinner, Carolina’s entry should remain a favorite.