After an offseason that saw a half-dozen veterans leave via trade, free agency, and the expansion draft, the Washington Capitals have several fierce training camp battles ongoing as many of the team’s top prospects try to prove they belong at the NHL level.
One of those players is fifth-year pro and 2014 third-round pick Nathan Walker, who is competing for one of three open slots in the top-12 (and potentially one more spot as the 13th forward). The 23-year-old winger is already the first Australian ever drafted by an NHL team. This fall, he’s attempting to make even more history by becoming the first Aussie to ever play a game in the NHL.
So far, he’s made a great first impression in camp and seems to be one of the frontrunners for one of the team’s open spots on the fourth line.
— Hershey Bears (@TheHersheyBears) September 15, 2017
During training camp, the Capitals split the camp participants into three squads: Team White, Team Red, and Team Blue. Walker, wearing number 79, is on Team Blue, and skating on a line with offseason trade acquisition Tyler Graovac and 2012 sixth-round pick Riley Barber.
“It went really well,” Walker, in an interview with RMNB, said of integrating with his linemates. “Barbs and I have played together for two years now so we have some chemistry. Graovac is awesome to play with, lots of speed and size.”
Walker, a speedy five-foot, nine-inch net crasher, was one of the most impressive players on the ice during the team’s conditioning test on day one.
— Tarik El-Bashir (@TarikCSN) September 15, 2017
“I think he’s made a statement,” general manager Brian MacLellan said to NBC Sports Washington’s Tarik El-Bashir. “He wants it. He’s made a great first impression.”
“I really pushed myself this offseason to be in better shape then I was last year,” Walker said. “I think that the work you put in the summer really pays off.”
On Sunday, Walker continued his strong play, scoring in Team Blue’s 4-0 win over Team Red.
Rookie winger Nathan Walker had a couple of prime scoring chances early, but failed to finish on both. He made up for it later on with a strong second effort goal at the top of the paint. After Copley made an excellent left pad stop to deny the first opportunity, Walker calmly collected the rebound and lifted it into the cage to make it 3-0 for Team Blue.
Over the last two seasons with the American Hockey League’s Hershey Bears, Walker has turned himself into a finisher, scoring a combined 28 goals and proved to be an immovable object in front of the net. A heart and soul player, Walker does not let his size limit where he goes on the ice. Growing up, the Aussie, who first got into hockey because of the Mighty Ducks movies, found a role model in Martin St. Louis.
Last season, Walker nearly received his first NHL call-up, but was foiled after breaking his hand in late January.
“Nathan Walker was a name that we’re thinking about bringing up and he got hurt,” head coach Barry Trotz said following the Caps’ promotions of Chandler Stephenson and Christian Djoos after the All-Star Break. “So [Nathan] will be eliminated for a little bit.”
The previous October, Trotz said he was 100% sure the Australian was “going to play in the National Hockey League” someday.
MacLellan echoed those statements over the weekend, identifying Walker one of three Bears players that was ready to play at the next level.
“I think [Jakub] Vrana should be ready, [Nathan] Walker should be ready, [Chandler] Stephenson should be ready,” MacLellan said to Vogel. “But they still have to perform at a certain level. Us as an organization, we have to give them a shot. But we also have to be ready – if they don’t accomplish what they need to accomplish – to find someone else.”
Earlier in September, Walker was one of three Capitals’ young players to participate in the NHL’s rookie orientation camp. According to Sportsnet, the initiative started in 2013 to ensure that the league’s young players develop life skills along with their on-ice talents. The program sees 80 to 90 players each summer who attend workshops over a period of two days. Some sessions focus on taxes and investments, diversity, social media, drugs and alcohol, and mock disciplinary hearings.
“I went with Connor Hobbs and Lucas Johansen,” Walker said. “It was good, a lot of things you learn about the NHL, the financial side of things to things after your career. It was a good couple of days.”
Monday night, Walker, who is rooming with another Capitals hopeful, Christian Djoos, will make his preseason debut against the New Jersey Devils. He’ll look to score in consecutive days and get one step closer to a historic roster spot.
— Washington Capitals (@Capitals) September 16, 2017
Headline photo: @Capitals
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