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Capitals' Walker aims to be first Aussie to reach NHL

by Mike G. Morreale

PHILADELPHIA -- The third time was the charm for Australian-trained left wing Nathan Walker.

Walker, passed over in the previous two NHL Drafts, moved one step closer to realizing his dream on Saturday when the Washington Capitals selected him in the third round (No. 89) of this year's event at Wells Fargo Center. This was the final year of draft eligibility for Walker.

The first Australian to be drafted, Walker is now hoping to take it one step further and lock up a roster spot right out of training camp. The Capitals' managerial team is very familiar with the 5-foot-9, 185-pound forward.

Walker, 20, was one of 40 forwards invited to the Capitals' training camp last fall on a tryout basis.

"I had a good rookie camp and then got the invite to the main camp, so it went well," Walker told last September. "I thoroughly enjoyed it."

Walker played in his first preseason game with the Capitals Sept. 14 against the Winnipeg Jets in the Kraft Hockeyville game in Belleville, Ontario. He also skated with Troy Brouwer and Chandler Stephenson during several sessions of main camp. When forward Brooks Laich left the first session of training camp with a hip flexor injury Sept. 12, Walker filled his spot on a line with Stephenson and right wing Brouwer.

According to reports, Walker skated hard, was aggressive and pressured opposing defenders when given the opportunity but was still a late cut. The Capitals weren't fazed, however, and had the confidence he could push for a roster spot once again.

Walker joined the Youngstown Phantoms of the United States Hockey League in January 2013 after playing six seasons of hockey in the Czech Republic, including two campaigns with HC Vitkovice in the top Czech professional league. Born in Cardiff, Wales, his family moved to Sydney when he was 2 years old. He then moved to Ostrava, Czech Republic, where's been developing his game the past seven seasons.

"My time in the Czech Republic was so important; that's when I really developed," Walker said. "I wasn't really going to develop in Australia since I was on the ice once a week and playing one or two games, so making the transition to Czech Republic was a huge part of my development."

Walker acknowledged that there are about 30 rinks in Australia, so there isn't much ice time to go around for those interested in the sport.

Despite his smallish frame, Walker earned the nickname "Stormy" for his aggressive and relentless puck pursuit each shift. He played for Australia at the 2011 IIHF World Championship Division II tournament and the following year played for Australia at the 2012 World Championship Division IB tournament, when he had four goals and six points. He was recognized by tournament coaches as Australia's best player.

When asked for the odds of his becoming the first Aussie to play in the NHL, Walker laughed.

"It's definitely not an easy road," he said, "but I'll keep pushing and we'll see where it ends up."


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