Coming into the 2001-02 season, LW Rick Nash was considered one of several top prospects for the 2002 NHL Draft. He had just come off a season where he was named the Rookie of the Year in the OHL, based mostly on his considerable offensive skills.
Rick’s team, the London Knights, started the 01-02 season slowly, which lead to the hiring of former NHL agitator Dale Hunter as the Knights’ coach. Hunter quickly settled the team down, helping Rick and his teammates develop a work ethic that may have been missing at the start of the season. Nash, in particular, benefited from Dale’s presence, improving his game to the point where he is considered a legitimate candidate to go 1st overall in the 2002 draft.
In 54 games this season, Rick tallied 72 points (32G, 40A), finishing 2nd in scoring on the Knights’ roster. He has added 15 points in the playoffs (8G, 7A), leading his team in scoring while placing fourth in that category in the OHL.
In addition to his work with the Knights, Nash also appeared in 7 games for Team Canada at the 2002 World Junior Championships. Rick picked up 3 points (1G, 2A) in his role as a 3rd or 4th line forward. He’ll no doubt see increased ice time at next year’s tournament.
I had the opportunity to speak with Rick prior to Game 3 of the London-Erie series. The initials “HF” indicates my questions, while Rick answers (minus some bad background singing by some of his teammates) are designated by his initials, “RN”.
HF: First, let’s talk about this season. You guys got off to a bit of a slow start, then (former NHLer) Dale Hunter was brought in to coach the team, and things have turned around for London since that change. What do you think Dale has brought to your team that has contributed to London’s turnaround?
RN: I think he has brought experience to the team. He’s played in the NHL, he knows what we’re going through, and he knows what to expect from us. So, he’s just been helping us along the way, and we’ve been doing good.
HF: Has he helped your game at all, personally? Has he given you any pointers? Being your coach, I certainly think he would do this…
RN: Yeah, he’s helped me a lot. He’s stayed out with me after practice, working on my shot, showing me little tricks behind the play that I can do to make my game that much better, and make it look that much better.
HF: You had the big upset in the 1st round of the playoffs vs. Plymouth. Do you think it was a case of your team wanting it more than Plymouth did?
RN: I think it was that, and I think it’s usually hard work that beats talent. By far, they had the more talented team than us, but I think our hard work beat their talent, as I said. We just worked harder than them, and I think we wanted it a bit more.
HF: This is a little bit tougher series (vs. Erie) this time around. Is London’s work ethic what will get you past the Otters?
RN: This is a tough series, and I think they’re a better team than Plymouth. They’ve got some snipers up front, but I just think if we work harder than them, that’s what it is going to come down to. There again, Erie is the more talented team, like Plymouth, so I find if we work hard and take advantage of our chances, we should have a chance.
HF: Where are you from?
RN: Brampton, Ontario.
HF: That’s a suburb of Toronto, so you must have grown up a Maple Leafs fan.
RN: Yep, a die-hard Leafs fan.
HF: Who were your favorites from the Leafs when you were younger?
RN: Mats Sundin.
HF: Would he be a role model for your game?
RN: I wouldn’t say I was more talented. I was always one of the top players on my team, I guess, but there were others on those teams who were good, too.
HF: The NHL Draft is coming up in June. I know you’re not thinking about it much right now, but have you talked to any NHL scouts, or do they do that after the season?
RN: I haven’t talked to many scouts at all. I think they’ll do that coming closer to the draft.
HF: You’ve been talked up as a possible first overall pick. Is that something that has distracted you at all during the season, or have you pretty much stayed on track as far as what you wanted to accomplish?
RN: I wouldn’t say it distracted me. If anything, it pumped me up. I’ve stayed on track, pretty much. I had a slow finish, where I didn’t too well near the end of the season, so I was pretty disappointed with that. I’m having a pretty good playoff right now, and I just have to keep that up.
HF: What types of things do you do well that make you a top prospect?
RN: I’d say the main thing is goal scoring. Also, just working hard, coming back into my end and playing good defense, and setting up plays.
HF: What do you need to work on, then, to ensure that you get to the next level?
RN: I’d probably say the speed of the game. I’d have to pick up my speed a bit better, and maybe work on some defense.
HF: How would you improve your skating? Is that done mostly through speed skating drills, or are there other ways of improving speed?
RN: Actually, just more work on the trunks of the legs, to make them more powerful so that I’m quicker from the first 5 steps of my stride.
HF: With the draft being in Toronto this year, I’m sure that will be a big thing for you. To have your name called in front of your whole family and many friends, probably. Is that something you think about very much?
RN: Yeah, I think it’s going to be a lot of fun that it’s in Toronto, with lots of family and friends going down. Even though I don’t get to go somewhere hot, like last year in Florida, the setting will be better with it being in my hometown. Hopefully I’ll just get drafted high.
HF: I’ll let you go now. Good luck tonight, and the rest of the way.
RN: Thanks a lot.