The Checkers’ 2011-12 training camp is ‘built’ by Timberstone Homes
Since this time last season, Riley Nash has taken a big step forward in his development. He may have even taken two.
The 22-year-old Checkers center began his professional career last season as a highly-touted prospect, haven been chosen by the Edmonton Oilers in the first round of the 2007 draft and having scored at a healthy rate through three years of college at Cornell. However, as many first-year players do, he found the initial experience to be a bit overwhelming, resulting in a slower start than he and his team had expected.
It wasn’t until the latter part of the season that Nash began to catch on. Though his offensive totals won’t show it – he finished with 32 points, mostly while playing on the team’s fourth line – his game improved towards the end of the season, particularly in the playoffs.
Rather than pick up where he left off this preseason, he exceeded that mark. After not coming particularly close to recalling Nash in year one, the Carolina Hurricanes made him their final forward cut this week, suggesting that he’s now near the top of the list should the big club need reinforcements.
“It took some time for him to get used to the pace and the grind of the season, but his improvement from September to where he was in the playoffs was huge,” said Checkers coach Jeff Daniels. “He deserves a lot of credit for the way he approached things. He took everything the coaches told him to heart, and he opened a lot of eyes at camp.”
While hockey players take all kinds of developmental curves, with some needing work in skill development and others in conditioning, it seems that a little confidence was all Nash required. Having been one of Cornell’s scoring leaders in each of his three collegiate seasons, he became concerned when it seemed as though that pace would be tougher to achieve in the professional ranks. An average training camp turned into a 10-game scoring drought to start the season, which would have its ups and downs the rest of the way.
“When you’re struggling, you sometimes just get caught in a downward spiral,” he said. “You can’t really focus on the numbers, because at the start you’re not going to score as much as you did in juniors or in college.”
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Having finished the year on a high note, Nash carried that momentum into the summer. That, along with a higher comfort level with the organization and professional hockey as a whole, helped him become a standout in the preseason.
“It just felt like coming back to see old friends instead of coming into a new situation and having to meet everyone for the first time,” he said.
Along the way, he may have done a little soul searching as well.
“You can’t teach confidence,” he said. “It has to come from within.”
Nash, regarded as a two-way player with size (6-foot-1, 191 pounds) to match his skill, will have another adjustment to make this season. This time, he’ll be making the transition from depth forward to key offensive contributor as he’s set to start the season on a line with last season’s leading goal scorer in Chris Terry and leading point scorer in Zach Boychuk.
“He’ll play a lot bigger role this year than last year,” said Daniels. “We’re counting on him to provide some offense while continuing to be a good two-way player.”
The level of faith now being shown in him by both the Hurricanes’ staff and Daniels should only provide another boost for Nash, though he’s trying to keep things in perspective.
“It was good to know that they thought enough about me to keep me up for so long, but at the same time I’m back down here so there are some things I need to work on,” he said. “It’s not done yet.”
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