Last playoffs, Rangers winger Rick Nash spiraled into a terrible funk that baffled NHL experts and die-hard Blueshirts fans.
Nash scored just three goals and registered only seven assists for 10 points in 25 games last playoffs. During the 2014 Stanley Cup Final, head coach Alain Vigneault used Nash sparingly on the power play. Nash was deployed on the power play for a grand total of just three minutes and 15 seconds during the Stanley Cup Final.
Rangers fans pondered whether a history of concussions had sapped Nash of his energy or whether the fear of another concussion had made him gun-shy and afraid to go hard to net. Everything seemed to go wrong for Nash during the 2014 playoffs, and his decision-making was visibly out of sync.
Nash led all players with 83 shots during the playoffs. He only scored on 3.6 percent of those shots.
New York athletes are measured by whether they can produce in pressured playoff moments. Nash’s career regular season shooting percentage is 12.4 percent. Since joining the Rangers, Nash’s playoff shooting percentage is a lowly 3.2 percent.
When Nash showed up to informal workouts ahead of this summer’s training camp, myself and the on-looking media had to do a double take. Nash arrived at the Rangers’ Greenburgh, N.Y. training facility noticeably thinner and without his trademark beard. Number 61 looked like an entirely different person.
Vigneault has noticed a “night and day” difference between when he first worked with Nash a year ago and the driven Nash who showed up this preseason.
“It’s definitely what we’re looking for as far as veteran leadership,” Vigneault said during training camp. “Rick’s come in here, every practice he has been focused, paying attention. He’s paying attention to the details on the ice, working extremely hard. This camp, compared to the one he had last year — I’ve had him twice — night and day.”
Vigneault also praised Nash for his constant communication with rookie winger Anthony Duclair. The high-potential 19-year-old will begin the season with Blueshirts. Duclair has practiced and played in five-on-five and power play situations on a line with Nash and Martin St. Louis. That line isn’t a lock to remain together when the Rangers begin the season on Thursday in St. Louis, but it would certainly be an intriguing experiment.
Defenseman John Moore has been Nash’s teammate in both Columbus and New York. Moore has described Nash’s performances in camp as “spectacular.”
“One thing’s for sure,” Moore said. “He’s ready to play this year. He’s been nothing short of spectacular so far in camp. We’re all pulling for him. We know what type of person he is, and what kind of player he is. He’s a special talent. You look at the way he’s played in exhibitions, he’s right there – he’s at the top of his game.”
Nash has often been labeled as a ‘laid-back’ character. Moore feels that reputation doesn’t paint the full picture of what Nash brings to the table.
“To characterize Rick as ‘laid-back,’ I think you’re missing who Rick is,” Moore said. “He’s not the most talkative person, but he definitely leads by example – whether that’s taking d-men wide and driving the net hard, or blocking shots, or sticking up for teammates and laying big hits. Rick is a competitor – and a leader at that too.”
With Thursday’s season opener approaching, Nash will soon have the chance to prove he can return to his elite best and earn back the respect of Rangers fans who turned on him last playoffs.
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