After being outhustled in their second round loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins in the 2016 Stanley Cup Playoffs, Capitals General Manager Brian MacLellan emphasized the need for the team to get faster this offseason.
With veteran Jason Chimera an unrestricted free agent this summer, MacLellan may have to look elsewhere for a solution if the 37-year old left wing’s contract demands are too high. One possible solution lies within the organization in the form of Hershey Bears forward Nathan Walker.
The team’s third-round pick (89th overall) in the 2014 NHL Entry Draft, the 22-year old Australia native has played the last three seasons in the AHL with the Bears, recording 23 goals and 56 points in 144 games played; this season, he recorded a career-high 17 goals, 24 assists, and 41 points in 73 games. While on the smaller side (5’8″, 186 lbs), Walker is quick on his feet, despite tearing his ACL in January 2015.
While Walker may benefit from at least another season in Hershey, if he shows enough in training camp, he could earn a roster spot. If Chimera departs this summer, Walker provides the Caps with another option at left wing. However, he likely isn’t ready for a third-line role and would most likely be used on the fourth-line. MacLellan stated that the bottom-six must get faster and add offense, two things that Walker provides. Walker uses his speed on the penalty kill and even-strength situations, working tirelessly to get the puck. According to NoVa Caps’ own Bears’ correspondent Julie Beidler, Walker is one of the fastest skaters in Hershey and compares him to Stanislav Galiev, who is of similar size and also possesses blazing speed. Walker will use his speed in almost any situation to get the puck, and projects him as a fourth-liner at best in the NHL. She believes Walker and AHLer Dustin Gazley’s line is one of the fastest in the AHL
While speed is an ever-growing asset in today’s NHL (as evidenced by the Capitals’ struggle at keeping up with the Penguins), Walker is only 22 and could use more experience, something he himself told Caps’ Senior Writer Mike Vogel in a recent interview when asked what parts of his game he felt needed work:
“I just think overall experience. With the puck, without the puck, D-zone, offensive zone. Hopefully that’ll help me.”
Walker has adjusted well to the pro game, and it’s not out of the question the Caps give Walker and fellow Bears forwards Jakub Vrana and Riley Barber extended looks come training camp. While MacLellan has reiterated that he expects the team’s higher-skilled players to see part-time NHL action, a strong training camp showing could earn Walker a place in the Opening Night lineup.
By Michael Fleetwood