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Nash has sights set on postseason

by Dan Rosen

Rick Nash's ultimate goal for the upcoming season is the same as everyone else's -- win the Stanley Cup.

"If we only make the playoffs we're not going to be satisfied," Nash said. "We're going to go for it all, but in saying that we have to get there first."

Nash is a straight shooter, and he's dead on when he talks about the Blue Jackets' goals for this season. For Columbus to win the Stanley Cup, it needs to first make the playoffs, which the Blue Jackets haven't done in their eight years of existence.

But for the first time since he arrived in Ohio's capital city as the No. 1 draft pick in 2002, Nash honestly feels as though the Blue Jackets are about to embark on a breakthrough season.

"I think last season was the first season teams actually started taking us serious," Nash said. "We weren't as consistent as we wanted to be, but you could sense that teams were taking us serious. We're the only team to not make the playoffs (in the NHL), but with Ken Hitchcock as our coach, now teams are watching us and that puts us on the map.

"We're lucky for how patient our fans are already, but we have to show them a good product and start winning to get the whole city excited."

Nash appears ready to lead the surge. He was awarded the "C" with a little less than a month remaining last season, right around the time when the Jackets began to fall completely out of the playoff race. Still, it was no fluke that Hitchcock and Columbus GM Scott Howson chose Nash.

For one, Nash, who is only 24, is clearly the face of the franchise and has been ever since June 22, 2002, when former Blue Jackets GM Doug MacLean made Nash the first selection at the Entry Draft in Toronto.

Six years into his career, Nash seems to have a firm grasp on the responsibilities that come with being the face of an NHL franchise.

"I think I'm responsible to take this team to the next level," Nash said. "They have invested a lot in me and they have made me the captain to lead this team to the next level."

Nash credits the guidance he received from Joe Sakic and Jarome Iginla at the 2006 Winter Olympics for helping him mature. He played with Sakic and Iginla as well as current or former captains Vinny Lecavalier, Shane Doan, Chris Pronger, Ryan Smyth, Rob Blake and Adam Foote in Torino, where the Canadians finished a disappointing sixth.

"I just sat back and watched at the Olympics," Nash said. "Almost everyone there was a captain and that was one of the toughest times for Canadian hockey. I always try to take the positives out of things, and it was nice to sit back and see how those guys handled it. There were some great captains there with Iginla and Sakic. It's just a matter of stepping up when you're needed."

Nash's ability to step up is essential, especially now that the Blue Jackets look like a team primed to make a legit push for a postseason berth.

They have Nash coming off a career year numbers-wise. He had 38 goals and 31 assists for a career-high 69 points. The additions of R.J. Umberger, Kristian Huselius, Jakub Voracek and Raffi Torres should bolster the Jackets' offense, which despite Nash's effectiveness still finished 29th in the League in goals per game last season.

Fedor Tyutin, Christian Backman and Mike Commodore were brought in to make the defense tougher in front of goalie Pascal Leclaire.

"I was watching something the other day on TiVo showing the trade deadline and it showed the standings right there on the bottom line and we were one point out of the playoffs," Nash said. "Obviously the trade thing didn't work for us to get who we wanted to get, so we built for the future and let go of guys that weren't going to be around for a while. We built for this year and made some great pickups in the offseason."

If the Jackets do win this season, Nash predicts more and more free agents will start putting Columbus on their short list of preferred NHL cities.

"Everyone loves the lifestyle there and the living arrangements," Nash said. "It's a great hockey city, but as you win you're going to attract more guys. Everyone wants to win. As we win, we'll attract more big names."

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