RALEIGH, N.C. – Carolina Hurricanes center Riley Nash is currently the team’s offensive pacesetter heading into a Thursday night matchup with the Winnipeg Jets.
It’s not Eric Staal, Jeff Skinner, or Alexander Semin leading the team in scoring after 14 games, but fifth-year pro Nash who has set the bar up to this point.
He currently sits atop the Hurricanes’ scoring list with 11 points (4g, 7a) to go along with a plus-2 rating, as well as being a critical part of the team’s faceoff corps with a 53% (127-113) success rate – good for 34th overall in the league.
After Carolina started the season without a win in its first eight games, Nash has contributed to the team’s current undefeated run with six points (2g, 4a) in six games which started back on Nov. 1 with a 3-0 win over the Arizona Coyotes.
Following the pregame skate that day, Nash pointed out what was coming together for him at that early point in the season in the faceoff circle and around the net.
He talked about having confidence and being physically stronger as the successful combination in getting wins over the dot.
“I think early on I had confidence goin’ in there with whatever decision I made – whatever I wanted to do – I just went at it 100 percent and not really worryin’ as much about the other guy. Just more worried about myself.”
Being a more seasoned centerman is not his doing only.
Apparently, earning his stripes from those wearing the stripes hasn’t hurt his success in winning faceoffs either.
“I think as you get more and more games under your belt, they respect you a little bit more,” Nash said of the league’s officials.
“You can talk to ‘em more. It’s just kind of give and take. I know when you’re a young guy, a rookie, you don’t really get the benefit of the doubt too often. That’s been helpful – just a lot of different little factors that have all come together.”
Throw in a more committed team system in gaining puck possession off the draw from head coach Bill Peters as well as a rules change that places wingers farther apart, and it’s not surprising the success that Nash and the team’s other centers have experienced in sitting fourth place overall (53%) in the NHL.
“That’s a big change,” Nash said of the new hash mark placements.
“If you’re winning the puck, say a foot, foot-and-a-half on your side, that guy has that extra step, usually your winger or your D-man is gonna’ get that puck. Whereas before it was win your battle and a lot of scrums, so now it puts even more of an emphasis on centermen to get it on their half of the ice and give their winger or D-man a chance of gettin’ the puck.”
Getting off to such a start hasn’t happened by accident according to Nash, particularly after finishing last season setting career highs in games played (73), goals (10), assists (14), and points (24).
He gained a confidence level that he planned to carry into training camp after a summer of hard work and relaxation in Kamloops, British Columbia.
“Over the course of last year, I thought I improved quite a bit,” Nash said back in mid-September.
“I think it’s just repetition and bearin’ down and gettin’ it done.”
“The comfort level is there, the confidence is there. Now I don’t have to go through that whole feeling-out process of, ‘Can I be here for a year? Can I make this last?” he continued.
“The second half of last year, I really excelled and that’s when I played my best hockey and gave me confidence goin’ into this year that I can do it. It’s just a matter of startin’ off on the right foot, buildin’ that confidence, gettin’ in that groove again and carryin’ it through the season.”
It’s seems that Nash has backed up and followed through on what he set out to do – start and finish his job in the faceoff circle, and put a couple of more pucks in the net to help the Hurricanes to win games.
Sitting in a spot where he’s never been, nor where many would have placed him, just creates more intrigue as to what his ceiling for success can and will be.
It’s all a part of a young pro’s journey to finding his way in the NHL and one that he is taking advantage of in his own quiet, unassuming manner.
“When you’re young in the league, you wanna’ do everything right and everything by the book by goin’ hard to the net,” Nash said.
“You continue to wanna’ do those things as you progress through your career, but there are times when you need to find a soft area, find the open spot and give your wingers an outlet or find a scoring area in the O-zone if there’s a guy right in front. I think one of the things that I need to do is continually get to the net. That’s usually where I score most of my goals. I don’t score too many outside the hash marks. I’ve been tryin’ to get there as much as possible – just findin’ the soft areas.”