This week's hockey player will be the first current player I've profiled. In addition, he's an established superstar, but not because he has always been in the upper echelon of players, but because he has been the only established player at all on a team that has historically struggled. He bore this burden alone until very recently, when a new GM and new coach brought in players and a system that is turning the franchise around. Pound for pound, he's one of the best pure goal scorers out there today and is a power forward through and through. He's been one of Team Canada's most consistent contributors, and I thought he was the best guy at the Olympic camp that just finished. He is:
#61, Rick Nash
Rick Nash is 25 years old. He's only a couple months older than I am. But so far he's had a great NHL career. His first year, as an 18 year old, wasn't as impressive as was hoped, but he won the Rocket Richard Trophy in his second year with 41 goals scored. Since then, Nash battled injuries on a yearly basis, it seemed, but finally had a full season last year, where he again scored 40 goals.
Although Nash has played 441 NHL games, he has managed to score 194 goals - or about a goal ever 2.1 games, which is a pretty impressive rate. Especially when you consider he's never played with a top-flight centre. Columbus has been dedicated to finding someone to centre Nash - that's why they got themselves Kristian Huselius, that's why they rolled the dice on R.J. Umberger, that's why they traded for Antoine Vermette. But more importantly, that's why they drafted Derick Brassard, who has the possibility to be a big, aggressive centre to play with the big, aggressive Nash.
Nash's numbers are even more impressive when you consider that lack of support. His first 4 seasons in the NHL were on teams that were pure garbage. As a result, Nash has been the Blue Jackets' representative at the All Star Game four times, as he's been clearly the best player. Now as the Jackets are finally starting to pick up steam, it is obvious that he won't be alone. Young Steve Mason seems sure to represent the Jackets soon - Brassard and Jakob Voracek and Nikita Filatov are all incredible prospects. Nash finally has a team.
But I'm here to talk about what Nash does when he's on a good team, and not just hope about the future of the man. Rick Nash is one of the best forwards that Canada's ever produced. This has never been more obvious than when he's playing for Team Canada. Excepting the terrible year in Torino, Rick has accumulated 39 points in 27 games for Canada, including 21 goals. The difference, of course, is he plays with a top-flight centre. Guys like Ryan Getzlaf, Derek Roy, Eric Staal, and Sidney Crosby.
This is what has me excited about the upcoming Olympics. We're not sure who's going to play on the right, but Crosby and Nash are guaranteed to play together. They had electric chemistry in the Red-White game on Thursday, and Nash was easily the best skater on the ice. He destroyed Brendan Morrow with a huge hit, just because he's aggressive and strong. I'd love to see him bring that aggression to the ice in Vancouver.
We'll be playing on the small ice, but that hasn't been a disadvantage for Nash in the future. The 2008 Men's World Hockey Championships were held on small ice (for the first time, like, ever), and Rick still marked up 15 points. He's got so much potential, that till recently, hasn't been realized.
Watching Nash tear up the ice with Sid the Kid and another top-flight winger, like Jarome Iginla, Dany Heatley, or Martin St. Louis, is going to be a treat at Vancouver. This guy is electric whenever he wears the maple leaf on his sweater. Not the blue one, the red one, and he should be a dynamo in the 2010 Olympics.
We haven't seen what Rick Nash is truly capable of, yet. But I have a feeling we very soon will.