With just one day left in this year’s training camp, Riley Nash
is hoping his stay in Raleigh goes beyond that.
A few weeks ago, many eyes were upon Zach Boychuk
and Drayson Bowman
, as prognosticators tried to determine who would grab the coveted few forward spots available on the Carolina Hurricanes’ roster.
Nash was a dark horse and quickly earned the praise of head coach Paul Maurice, who continually said Nash was the most improved forward from the beginning of training camp last year to present time. That earned the 22-year-old forward a spot in Raleigh – for now, at least.
“There are a lot of positive things that I’ve taken from camp already,” Nash said. “It’s been a good experience. It’s a fast pace, you need to make every play count and you can’t take any shifts off. It’s old clichés, but it really is what makes a good hockey team and a good hockey player. I’m not going to be discouraged, but I’d like to stay here as long as possible, obviously.”
Come tomorrow, when the club has to make a cut to get the roster down to the maximum of 23, Nash could still find himself in the home locker room; the Canes could put ailing forward Chad LaRose
on injured reserve, freeing up a roster spot for Nash. The Canes could also send Nash down and recall a natural wing.
“I think this year it’s very important that, if he’s not playing here, he’s playing,” Maurice said. “And he’s playing 20-22 minutes. And that’s the next step in his progression for me.”
Nash was drafted 21st overall by the Edmonton Oilers in the summer of 2007. The Canes acquired him in June 2010. A few months later, he was in Raleigh for his first camp with his new team.
“Last year I didn’t think I had a very good camp, so I was hoping it was only going up from there,” Nash recalled.
And it did. Last season, he was a key piece of the puzzle in the Charlotte Checkers’ success on the ice last season. In 79 regular season games with the Checkers, Nash finished with 32 points (14g, 18a) and was a plus-5. In the playoffs, Nash added four points (1g, 3a).
“It was a good year in the AHL just adjusting to the pro game,” Nash said. “Jeff Daniels and Mr. Kinnear did a really good job just helping me through it, constantly reminding me of what I need to work on. I know I still have a long way to go to play in the NHL on a consistent basis, but I’m just trying to take care of those things.”
Maurice noticed a difference in Nash’s game months before training camp, when the Canes’ coaching staff and front office regularly traveled down to Charlotte during the Calder Cup Playoffs.
“He’s bigger, stronger [and] faster this year. But that being said, we saw it in the playoffs last year,” Maurice said. “His year in the American League did wonders for him. I thought he was a lot grittier and fighting on pucks. His intelligence has always been there. His D-zone positioning is very, very good.”
That translated into a strong camp for Nash, and Maurice noted Nash’s “overall physical maturity.” With so many young players competing for such few roster spots, Maurice said that they would need to earn exhibition games. Clearly, Nash was one who did, as he played in five preseason games for the Canes. He notched a goal and an assist, and was tied for the team lead in plus-minus at plus-2.
It remains to be seen whether he will be in the opening night lineup, but one thing is certain: these won’t be his last days in Raleigh all season, as he has positioned himself as a top call-up.
“There’s always something to prove,” Nash said. “I’m definitely not a shoe-in for the team, so I’m trying to earn a spot everyday, and just take it day-by-day. Whatever happens, happens.”