The London Knights are currently in their second year of management by the Hunter family and the last year playing at the IceHouse. A number of excellent players have donned the Knights uniform in the old barn, and we may be seeing the best of the bunch this year in Rick Nash. Pretty strong statement considering Jason Allison and Brendan Shanahan among others are alumni.
Nash stands six foot four inches and weighs in at 180 pounds. He shoots left and plays left wing. He is a probable top 5 pick for the 2002 entry draft and will challenge for the top spot. He will face great scrutiny this year, as numerous scouts pick apart his game, looking for flaws real and imagined, comparing him to the other elite players around the globe. Toss in going to school, dealing with teen age problems, and oh yeah, being the go to guy on an OHL team for the second year in a row and there will be a lot of pressure on his shoulders.
Nash has a number of things going for him, and lets start with his size. He is already a big man and one can imagine what he may look like in a few years when he is done filling out. But the amazing part is that he is totally comfortable with his body and shows no signs of the awkwardness that other teenagers do when they have grown rapidly. He is a magician with the puck and uses his long reach to his total advantage. He can stickhandle laterally with ease, and loves to pull the puck back to his body, leaving opponents lunging futilely in search of the puck. With his size he can turn a corner and shield the puck with one arm off his stick. One on one he is deadly, but his ability to move through heavy traffic is amazing, he can dart through a crowd with the puck still on his stick, at least for a second until he fires it on net.
Despite his amazing abilities with the puck, don’t lump Rick Nash as a finesse player. He is a relentless forechecker who likes to throw his frame into opposing defence. Coaches love to see guys finish their checks and not just go in fishing for the puck, and Nash will rattle many a defencemen in the OHL this year. Nash is a strong skater and gets to the puck in a hurry, his long reach allows him to cover lots of ice on the forecheck, and he will create a number of turnovers in all 3 zones. By always hustling, he forces opponents to make plays in a hurry, which increases their chances of making mistakes.
He will be quite dangerous on the power play, especially down low. His ability to beat players one on one, will allow him to create temporary two man advantages down low in the danger areas. The Knights have a number of decent defencemen to throw out on the power play so he has good options to go high. There are no established forwards on London who have a lot of skill, but those who play with Nash will have to keep their stick on the ice and find open ice, or help create ice for him by picks or tying up their man etc. Look for him to set up behind the net on the power play, or on his off wing.
Even strength he spent a lot of the home opener against Sarnia on a line with RW Daniel Bois and centered by rookie Dylan Hunter, the sixteen year old son of Dale Hunter. Once RW Aaron Lobb is back from his first pro camp in Tampa Bay, the Knights will have a better idea what their top 2 lines will be. They do have a surplus of defenders and will likely be making a trade in the near future. Hunter showed a lot in his first OHL game, but I would like to see the Knights acquire a veteran centre to play with Nash this year. Several times he got in behind the defence but his team mates had trouble getting him the puck.
One thing is certain, Rick Nash will be a treat to watch this year. When he gets the puck, you can hear the buzz in the crowd as we all eagerly await what he might show us this shift. For those people who say that Canadians don’t produce skilled players anymore, please make an appearance at an OHL arena near you when Rick is in town and drop twenty-five bucks and take someone with you. You won’t be disappointed! The OHL has seen a number of kids step in at 16 and be impact players on their teams in the last couple of years, guys like Tim Connolly, Jason Spezza, Derek Roy among others. Rick Nash had a great rookie year and will counted on to have an even better sophomore season.