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Nash of Rangers set to play 1,000th NHL game

Forward will reach milestone against Coyotes on Thursday

by Dan Rosen @drosennhl / NHL.com Senior Writer

NEW YORK -- New York Rangers forward Rick Nash quickly recites the details of his first NHL game.

It was Oct. 10, 2002. Nash, the No. 1 pick by the Columbus Blue Jackets at the 2002 NHL Draft, was 18 years old.

"Against Chicago," Nash said. "At home [in Columbus]. Scored a goal against Jocelyn Thibault."

The reaction in the building?

"The place erupted," said former NHL forward Mike Sillinger, who assisted on Nash's first goal.

Nash's reaction?

"I had no idea what to do," Nash said. "No idea."

Oh, how things change.

 

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Nash will become the 312th player in NHL history to play in 1,000 games when the Rangers host the Arizona Coyotes at Madison Square Garden on Thursday (7 p.m. ET; MSG, FS-A, NHL.TV). He will become one of 77 players in NHL history to play in at least 1,000 games and score at least 400 goals.

Nash has 417 goals and 355 assists, giving him 772 points in 999 NHL games. He has scored at least 40 goals three times and at least 30 another five. He is a two-time Olympic gold medalist (2010 and 2014) and an IIHF World Championship gold-medal winner (2007) with Canada.

Not too shabby for a guy who learned how to shoot playing road hockey in Brampton, Ontario.

"You always grow up and pretend to guys like Mats Sundin and Doug Gilmour on the street, and then you score a goal in the NHL and then you start hitting these different achievements," Nash said. "The next thing you know, you've played 1,000 games in the NHL. It's crazy."

Nash said that first goal stands out because of his reaction. It was almost like a blackout moment, and all of a sudden, you're back on the bench watching the ensuing faceoff.

He said he had a similar reaction when he scored the tying goal against the Blackhawks on April 8, 2009. That goal, scored at 14:30 of the third period, forced overtime, giving the Blue Jackets the point they needed to clinch a berth in the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the first time in their history.

Video: NJD@NYR: Nash, Desharnais combine for pretty goal

Nash scored 289 goals in 674 games in nine seasons with Columbus. He is in his sixth season with the Rangers and has 128 goals in 325 games.

"You don't play in the League at the age of 18 unless your special," Sillinger said. "They loved this kid in Columbus. He was [drafted] first overall. They loved him from the moment he stepped on the ice. He sure made a name for himself."

Nash has been known as one of the best power forwards in the game for the balance of his 15 years in the NHL.

He has been known as one of the most complete forwards in the League since former Columbus and current Dallas Stars coach Ken Hitchcock turned him into a penalty killer in the 2006-07 season.

"When Rick changed his value system, he became a complete player," Hitchcock said. "When I first was with him in Columbus, a lot of the value was in scoring. If he didn't score, he'd get down on himself and it affected the mental state of his game. Then when he started being put into other roles, he started having a major impact in the game on every aspect.

"I think that mental change has allowed him to be a good player throughout his career. If you're going through stretches where you're not scoring, can you still have an impact on the game? He can."

Nash is going through one of those stretches now. He has one goal in 10 games despite being tied with center Mika Zibanejad for the Rangers lead with 39 shots on goal. He's had chances off breakaways, 2-on-1 rushes and open looks in the slot. He can't finish.

The Rangers are 2-6-2 after a 4-1 loss to the San Jose Sharks on Monday.

"If some of those go in, I could be at 10 [goals]," Nash said. "It's easier to hide when you're winning. When you're losing, they look at the guys who are supposed to be the best players. It's been a tough start."

Hitchcock said Nash's shot total is the key stat. If he's averaging almost 40 per every 10 games, that's a good sign.

"Because he's a streaky scorer and always has been," Hitchcock said.

One of Nash's closest friends in the League, Sharks center Joe Thornton, said Nash won't let the slump bother him.

"I don't think he panics at all," Thornton said. "Not too many guys want to go to the net. He wants to go to the net. He's definitely one of the hardest guys to defend."

Thornton got an early look at Nash 17 years ago when he was a young player for the Boston Bruins. Nash, 16 at the time, was just entering the Ontario Hockey League with the London Knights.

"I skated with the Knights when he got drafted by them," said Thornton, who is from London, Ontario. "I remember them talking about Rick Nash, saying this guy is going to be a future stud."

It wasn't until the 2004-05 lockout that Thornton and Nash became close.

They played the season together in Davos, Switzerland, where Thornton met his wife. They were then teammates at the 2006 Torino Olympics, won a gold medal together at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics and played together in Davos again during the 2012-13 lockout.

"Some of my favorite memories of playing hockey are with him," Thornton said. "I lived right above him in Davos and we skied everyday together. He has a great sense of humor. He likes to have fun, like myself. He really is just a good ol' boy, that's for sure."

Nash is about to hit a big ol' milestone. Maybe he'll score a goal on his big night. He sure could use it. The Rangers definitely could. It'd be one he remembers.

"I always remember as a kid playing on my street, hockey was my life," Nash said. "To think I'm going to be playing 1,000 games in the NHL, from starting on roller blades, it's cool."

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