Despite A Slow Start, Riley Nash Is Capable of Being a Key Asset for the Columbus Blue Jackets

By Chris Pennington on October 30, 2018 at 4:42 pm

In signing Riley Nash and Anthony Duclair this past offseason, it was expected that one of them would likely outperform the other.

But most didn't think it would be Duclair as the one thriving while Nash is struggling.

Riley Nash came to the Columbus Blue Jackets this summer for his eighth NHL season, previously spending five with the Carolina Hurricanes and two with the Boston Bruins.

He has had a respectable third and fourth-liner career, averaging almost 24 points in his final three Carolina seasons, and in his most recent season in Boston, broke out for 41 points.

Last year's version of Nash was the grinding center that the Blue Jackets were hoping for when they nabbed him in free agency, but so far not the one they have gotten.

John Tortorella doesn't seem too concerned about this at the moment though, noting on Monday a conversation he had with Nash about his "notorious slow starts." 

And this claim is, so far, true: Nash has recorded three, four and five points in his first 20 games of the past three seasons, and then has clearly increased his productivity over the course of those seasons. 

"I think his game has picked up," said Tortorella. "I think the speed of his game is beginning to pick up."

In a 5-4 overtime victory against the Buffalo Sabres on Saturday night, Nash played catch with Cam Atkinson on an odd-man rush to set Atkinson up for a crucial go-ahead goal in the second period.

While this is only Nash's second assist of the young season, it's a sign of his potential to contribute offensively in addition to the penalty kill where he has seen a good portion of his ice time.

"He's done some good things. (He's) still working on face-offs. (He's) done a good job of killing penalties," Tortorella added. "The biggest thing with Nash is I just want him playing with pace."

When asked if it was something with the Blue Jackets' system that could be inhibiting Nash to being more productive, Tortorella was quick to dismiss this notion:

"Our system is pretty simple – we're trying to go north," Tortorella said. "There's not a lot of bells and whistles with our system. It's just about playing straight ahead."

Being known as a grinding and blue-collar team was ideally a perfect fit for Nash in the offseason, so this slow start has come as a surprise. But if the past couple games are an indication of the role he could have in the bottom-six forwards, his best hockey is ahead.

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