Let’s take a trip back to the year 2008, this is when Riley Nash was considered one of the Edmonton Oilers’ top prospects. He was taken in the first round the previous season and was one of the top scorers on Cornell University’s hockey team, a squad that featured Colin Greening of the Ottawa Senators. Nash was an absolute stud in college as he not only was a point-per-game player in college, but he excelled at the defensive side of the game, as well. Unfortunately for the Oilers, he seemed to fall out of favor with the organization there and was traded to the Hurricanes at the 2010 NHL Draft in exchange for one of Carolina’s second round picks. Since then, Nash has been playing with Carolina’s AHL affiliate in Charlotte and got his first taste of the NHL last season appearing in four games with the Hurricanes.
There were a lot of high hopes for Nash out of camp last season as he was one of the team’s final cuts and was very impressive in the pre-season. Getting to play a more defensive system his junior year at Cornell has paid dividends for him as the coaching staff seems to like his defensive game and it gives him an edge to make the NHL over those who are more one-dimensional. His ability to win face-offs is also something that the coaching staff in Charlotte has liked about him as it is one of the reasons why he is a big part of the Checkers penalty kill.
So why is Nash ranked so low on this list? For one, he had a very tough year offensively with the Checkers as he had only 8 goals and 20 points in 58 games there and would probably be on a checking line on most teams. If he stays in the AHL next season, there’s a good chance that he’ll play on the third line there depending on what happens with Zac Dalpe and Victor Rask. Nash’s ceiling is supposedly higher than that, but right now it’s looking more like he will be a bottom-sixer in the NHL. Not that there is anything wrong with that, because the Hurricanes are in need of quality depth forwards and Nash could be in the NHL as soon as next season. His biggest challenge will be beating out Dalpe and Jeremy Welsh for a roster spot this September.
Nash is older than some of the Hurricanes’ other prospects so his window of opportunity isn’t as large, but his chance could come this year since the Hurricanes need a third line center. Jim Rutherford elected not to fill this void through free agency because of the depth the Canes have in their system and one would have to believe that between Dalpe, Welsh and Nash, the Canes should have their third line center for next season. Nash’s strong defensive instincts might give him an inside edge over Dalpe and Welsh because Carolina”s third line typically plays the shutdown role, something that Nash could be a good fit for. That being said, I think he may need to improve offensively to earn a full-time role in the NHL because the Canes are going to need to improve their scoring depth next season and Nash has struggled to put up points at the NHL level.
It’s tough for me to consider Nash one of the team’s top prospects right now because there are others in the organization who have more NHL experience or have been more impressive in their respective leagues. This can easily change if Nash makes the NHL next season or has a great year in Charlotte, though. He will certainly have the opportunity to do so, I know that. It’s going to be an interesting training camp.