Twenty years ago today, the Columbus Blue Jackets had not yet played their first NHL game as an organization. Fast forward to now. The most influential player to ever pull the red, white, and blue sweater over his head is hanging up the skates. Rick Nash announced that, due to ongoing CTE concerns from past concussion, he is walking away from the game of hockey, at least professionally. The announcement, along with a statement from Nash’s agent, was made Friday morning, January 11th via Twitter. It’s always tough to see a franchise cornerstone walk away, especially one that built up a franchise. Let’s do our best not to forget what this man offered to the state of Ohio in the early 21st century.
Rick Nash: Early Career
CBJ’s Saving Grace
The Columbus Blue Jackets had played two seasons by the time the 2002 NHL Entry Draft rolled around. Unfortunately for them (or fortunately), they finished dead last in the 2001-2002 season. After some off-season moves and transactions, the Blue Jackets found themselves with the number one overall pick. Wisely, they chose Rick Nash. It was the start of something that hockey fans had long waited for in Ohio…. hope.
Nash finished his rookie season after playing in 74 games, amassing a total of 39 points (17G, 22A) and finishing 3rd for Rookie of the Year voting. It was his sophomore season, though, that would put Nash on the map. He finished the season playing 80 of the 82 games, collecting 57 points (41G, 16A). He earned himself the first of his six All-Star appearances. His 41 goals that year were also good enough to grab the Rocket Richard trophy, awarded to the player who scores the most goals that season. He shared the title with Ilya Kovalchuk in Atlanta and Jarome Iginla in Calgary.
Becoming a Leader
It was Rick’s third season that finally showed him maturing. Sure, he had shown flashes of his first-overall-pick-like-talent in his first two seasons, but Columbus wasn’t getting anywhere. They were still finishing in last place. On top of that, Nash had posted a +/- of -27 his rookie year, and -35 the following year. However, after the lockout year, Nash came back with a more mature play style. Injuries forced him to miss time, but he was still able to total 54 points (31G, 23A) in just 54 games while also getting his +/- to +5, a massive improvement. As he improved, so did his team. CBJ still failed to make the playoffs, but they had placed 3rd in their division for the first time in franchise history.
From there, Nash would continually improve his numbers. He finished the ’06-’07 season with 57 points (27G, 30A), and then the ’07-’08 season with 69 points (38G, 31A). In March of 2008, Rick Nash was named captain of the Columbus Blue Jackets, a role he would keep until traded away in 2012. His first full season as captain would be the best of his career, piling up 79 points, (40G, 39A) while staying +11. He would go on to play three more seasons after until he was traded to the New York Rangers.
Nash’s Career in Review
After traded to NYR in 2012, Nash only posted one more season above 50 points. It was the ’14-’15 season, and Nash went vintage. He played 79 games, and collected 69 points on 42 goals (a league-leading 32 of them while even strength) and 27 assists. He also finished with a +/- of +29. Although this was his only elite season after Columbus, he never fell off. He remained a consistent threat as he never posted below 30 points in a season. All in all, he would play for CBJ, NYR, and BOS.
Outside the NHL, Rick Nash is a two-time Olympic gold medalist and three-time World Championship silver medalist. Bling Bling.
Rick Nash finished his career with 1,060 games played, and a total of 805 points (437G, 368A). He remains the all time leader in Columbus Blue Jacket history in points (547), goals (289), assists (258), and games played (674). For some reason, Nash has always flown under the radar. I, personally, would attest that to his ability to play the game as a “jack-of-all-trades” type hockey player. If you needed Nash to lay the body, he would lower his shoulder and ask no questions. If you needed Nash to blow by a defender or two to make a play, he’d say “give me the puck”. He never really had that facet of his game you had to fear. At the same time, you were on the edge of your seat as a Columbus fan when Rick Nash had the puck.
I Will Never Forget 61
This man won me numerous NHL 2004 games on the ole PS2, but that has nothing to do with his career. I’m also pretty sure Mr. Blue Jacket has never been a nickname for him. It is now.
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