Weight: 191 lbs.
Drafted: 1st Round, 2007 Draft
Last Year's Ranking: 22
|2004-05||15||Salmon Arm Silverbacks||BCHL||1||0||0||0||0|
|2005-06||16||Salmon Arm Silverbacks||BCHL||1||0||0||0||0|
|2006-07||17||Salmon Arm Silverbacks||BCHL||55||38||46||84||1.5|
Riley Nash's status as a prospect has changed quite a bit over his career. He was an excellent play-making center in college and many expected him to be a future #2 center when the Oilers used their first round pick on him in 2007. Ever since he entered the AHL, his expectations went down considerably. Nash's offense didn't translate at the professional level and he usually ranked in the middle of the pack in goals, points and shots on goal among Charlotte forwards. This caused some people to lose faith in Nash and consider him only a fringe NHL-er at best.
While Nash's counting stats have been disappointing, he has developed into an effective shutdown center at teh AHL level. He has anchored the third line in Charlotte for the last few years and typically draws the toughest assignments from the coaching staff and played heavy minutes on the penalty kill in addition to that. His usage in Charlotte was very similar to how Paul Maurice utilized Brandon Sutter with the Hurricanes and the two have a similar playing style, as well. Like Sutter, Nash is an excellent skater and has excellent hockey sense, which made him a good fit for a tough minute role. He makes smart plays with the puck and you will rarely see him panic or make a mistake in a high-pressure situation.
What separates Nash from Sutter and other shutdown centers in the NHL is that Nash isn't a physical player and his two-way game isn't nearly as strong. Nash is more than solid defensively and is great at keeping the puck away from opposing forwards, but he isn't that big of a player and struggled to create offense during his first couple of years in the AHL. This is a problem that a lot of younger players run into when they make the jump from college or juniors to the professionals, but Nash at least made up for it with his defensive contributions. This is also one of the reasons why he was able to stick around in the NHL longer than some of the Hurricanes other call-ups.
The Hurricanes plan going into last season was to use Jussi Jokinen as the third line center and have younger players fill in the other bottom-six spots. Players like Jeremy Welsh, Zac Dalpe and Zach Boychuk were the ones high on most people's lists during training camp, but Nash ended up playing more games than all of them and eventually took over the third line center spot. It was a little surprising to see Nash emerge as an NHL-er last season, but it makes sense when you think about it. He had played a bottom-six role in the AHL for years and his solid defensive game made him a decent fit on a checking line over someone who was more a goal-scorer in the minors.
Overall, Nash's rookie season was decent. He didn't score much (five of his nine points came in two games) and wasn't great at faceoffs, but the Hurricanes were moving the puck in the right direction when he was on the ice. Nash posted a positive Corsi rating in a third line role, which is very encouraging for a rookie and scored at a decent even strength clip of 1.45 points per 60 minutes. There was a lot more that he could have done to make himself standout, but his overall results weren't awful. However, I think Nash needs to do a little more to keep his spot on the roster next season. Whether that means producing more points, playing more on the penalty kill or becoming a stronger territorial player doesn't matter because I see Nash as someone who can potentially do all of these things and become a solid top-nine player.
Nash looked very good by the eye test last season and most folks already have him penciled into the lineup for opening night. The fact that he was able to stick around for 32 games last season gives him the edge over some other players, but with Elias Lindholm in the mix and Jeremy Welsh on a one-way deal, Nash may not have a guaranteed spot. The Hurricanes have a lot of centers in the mix right now, so this might help Nash elevate his game to make himself stand out among the pack. There's nothing wrong with being a solid checking line player, but I think Nash can be so much more than that.
He is a smart player with a lot of offensive talent and while the latter hasn't translated to the pros, he has had some flashes indicating that he can be effective in a secondary scoring role. Nash managed to be one of the few Carolina prospects who went above and beyond his expectations last year and here's to hoping that continues over the next few months. Like I said earlier, his rookie season was good but there is a lot more that he can to do improve his all-around game.