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Rangers Praise "True Professional" Nash Before His 1,000th NHL Game

by Matt Calamia @MattCalamia / NYRangers.com

There are many ways to describe Rick Nash, but the ones used to describe No. 61 by his teammates and head coaches portrayed a star who doesn't need the spotlight despite accumulating 417 goals in a career that will reach its 1,000th game Thursday night.

"He's a guy that comes to work every day. He doesn't make a big deal about himself. He's humble," said Mats Zuccarello. "That's the big thing for me, to see how humble he is. He's played 1,000 games and he still doesn't think he's anyone. He still comes to practice and works hard and doesn't complain about anything. I think he's a big role model in that way."

Nash has been and always will be a team-first guy. Whether he's on a hot streak offensively or contributing to team success with strong defensive play, he's never been one to put himself ahead of his teammates or personal milestones before team success.

"It's a pretty cool achievement," Nash said when asked about what 1,000 games in the NHL meant to him. "It's kind of a bittersweet time to hit it, but I'm going to try and stick to the positives and enjoy the night."

His teammates, though, were more than willing to sing the praises of the 33-year-old who has been a staple during the organization's success over the last handful of seasons.

"He's earned every game," said J.T. Miller, who is slated to skate alongside Nash and Mika Zibanejad Thursday against the Coyotes. "He's a true professional in my eyes and is somebody this team really leans on. He's just such a big part of this team and to be able to share the ice with him on such a special day for him and his family is really special." 

Miller, who said he watched Nash as a kid during Nash's time in Columbus, arrived in New York during Nash's first season as a Ranger in 2013 and quickly gravitated towards Nash, who passed along advice on how to carry yourself in the NHL.

"When I came in I was 19. He'd teach you exactly how to be a pro," Miller said of Nash. "He's just here to work. He wants to win really bad. You can see it every game, everything he does he tries to make a difference. He's such an important piece to our team and such a great leader for us in such a quiet way." 

Alain Vigneault is now in his fifth season as Nash's coach, and like his players, remarked at how the 2002 first-overall pick conducts himself despite being in his 15th season in the NHL.

"He's just no maintenance. Goes about his job in this game in a real professional manner," Vigneault said. "Ever since I've been here this guy does more and more and more to stay on top of his game. More work in the summer, more work during the year. Real good with his teammates as far as playing the right way and giving them feedback about playing the right way."

Coaching staffs look to its leadership group to drive home their messages and be their eyes and ears inside the locker room. Vigneault said Nash has fit the bill and has been an integral part of his team's success over the years.

"[Nash is] a real great extension [of the coaching staff] when we're not in the room," he said. "What to say and what to do and how to play and how to act. One thousand games is a lot of games. He's been a real effective player for Columbus, and obviously since my time here. It's a big accomplishment."

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