Justin Bonhard| May 20th, 2020
The first overall selection in the 2002 National Hockey League Entry Draft by the Columbus Blue Jackets is our topic of conversation, left winger Rick Nash. What came after that selection, would be a marvelous career, stretching 15 NHL seasons for three franchises.
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With a blend of blinding speed and unbelievable skill with the stick, Nash became a household name for any NHL fan. His presence could be felt every time he touched the ice. His big frame and use of power moves to shake off defenders were a staple throughout his entire career.
NHL Tenure – Columbus Blue Jackets – Nine seasons, 2002-03 – 2011-12 / New York Rangers – Six seasons, 2012-13 – 2017-18 / Boston Bruins – One season, 2017-18
All-Star Appearances – Six Times (2004, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2011, 2015)
His Strongest Traits
Throughout his NHL career, Nash was well known for his big body and impressive offensive skill. At 6-foot-4, 211 pounds, he had breakaway speed to fly by defenders, as well as the strength to body them along the boards if need be. This helped him notch 30 goals or more in eight seasons, with three of them being over 40. He is still the franchise leader in goals and points for the Columbus Blue Jackets with 289 and 547, respectively, in 674 games.
His career started with the aforementioned first-overall selection in the 2002 NHL Entry Draft by Columbus. This match wasn’t necessarily destined, however, as Columbus was the third pick in that draft. Instead, the Florida Panthers were selecting first. Their eyes were on defenseman Jay Bouwmeester. After the swap of picks, both teams got the player that they wanted. “I didn’t want to miss on him now,” said Columbus’ former President and General Manager Doug Maclean on moving up for him in the 2002 NHL Draft.
Nash’s impact started immediately, as he scored a goal in his first NHL game against the Chicago Blackhawks on October 10, 2002. At just 18-years-old, he became the eighth first-overall selection to score in his debut. At the end of his rookie campaign, he would finish the season with 17 goals and 22 assists for 39 points. That was good enough to finish in third place for the Calder trophy, the most valuable rookie.
Contrary to the phrase, “The Sophomore Slump”, Nash was the furthest thing from in his second season with the NHL. With 41 goals and 16 assists during the 2003-04 season, he took home the Maurice “Rocket” Richard Trophy for scoring the most goals in the league. He also led the league in Power-Play goals, with 19. Over the following seven seasons, he became a leader for the young expansion team. He became the team captain on March 12, 2008, and helped lead the Blue Jackets to their first playoff appearance just a year later.
At the end of his tenure there, he averaged 0.81 points per game, including a point per game average in both 2005-06 and 2008-09. One of the most memorable goals of his career was on January 17. 2008. The highlight-reel goal was against the, then, Phoenix Coyotes. Nash collected a pass from Michael Peca while getting out of the penalty box against two defenders. After pushing the puck in front of him with his stick, he collected his strong hand at the bottom of his stick and put on the moves with not one, but two, toe-drags before going back-hand, fore-hand on the goaltender to score the game-winning goal. All the while, it was a 3-3 tie with under 30 seconds to go in the game. Talk about clutch moments.
Transition To Broadway
Nash was traded to the New York Rangers on July 23, 2012. The deal was for him and defenseman Steven Delisle, along with a third-round pick in the 2013 NHL Entry Draft (Pavel Buchnevich) to go to New York for Brandon Dubinsky, Tim Erixon, Artem Anisimov and a first-round selection in the 2013 NHL Entry Draft (Kerby Rychel). With the Rangers, Nash appeared in 375 games. During that time, he scored 145 goals and 107 assists for 252 points. Over his 11-year career, he never got the chance to have his name etched into the Stanley Cup.
The closest encounter to accomplishing that feat was at the end of 2013-14 season. The Rangers made a miraculous run from to the Stanley Cup Final. Unfortunately, they lost the series, 4-1, to the Los Angeles Kings. During that playoff run, Nash appeared in 25 games. He scored three goals and added seven assists, but none of those points came in the five-game series against Los Angeles. Nearing the end of his time in New York, Nash was able to eclipse the third and final 40+ goal season of his career. This time, it would be a career-high for goals, with 42 in 2014-15.
Nash was traded for the third time of his career on February 25, 2018. This time to the Boston Bruins. The trade was for Nash to leave New York for a return of Ryan Spooner, Matt Beleskey, Ryan Lindgren, a first-round pick in 2018, and a seventh-round pick in 2019. After the trade-deadline deal, he appeared in only 11 games with Boston. He suffered a concussion on March 17, 2018, against the Tampa Bay Lightning. It caused him to miss the rest of the regular season. But, he returned for one final playoff push toward the Stanley Cup. After 12 postseason games, contributing 3 goals and 2 assists, the story would end.
On January 11, 2019, Nash decided to hang up the skates for good due to side effects from that concussion.
Rick Nash Era
Now that Nash’s career is over, his impact on the game remains relevant. Even without winning the biggest prize in our great game, he is a memorable player from the 2000s and 2010s. His time in Columbus can be categorized as the “Rick Nash Era”. It would not come as a surprise to see #61 hanging from Nationwide Arena in the coming years.
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Main Credit Image: Embed from Getty Images