Nathan Walker made history earlier this year being the first Australian player to suit up in a NHL game. Even better, he scored in his very first game. But since then it’s been tough sledding for Walker.
The Aussie has played in just seven of the Capitals 25 games this season. Even worse, he has not played more than 2 consecutive games. So when he does get playing time, it’s usually a one-shot thing, then he sits for awhile before his next chance. If he doesn’t play against Los Angeles on the 30th, it will have been two weeks since he last played.
Why is this the case for Walker? Head coach Barry Trotz has always been hesitant on playing rookies, even when they are potentially better than other veterans. In his seven games as a 4th liner, Walker is a +4.1CF% player, meaning when he’s on the ice his team has 4.1% more shot attempts than without him; that’s very good.
What’s even more impressive is he starts 58.3% of his shifts in the defensive zone! That’s 5th most on the team and the four players in front of him are all negative possession relative players. So for him to start his shifts so often in his own zone yet drive possession is a great sign and it’s something the Capitals could use.
There really isn’t an excuse to have him sit so long when players like Alex Chiasson don’t seem like they are bringing much to table, or at least proven they bring more than Walker. Nothing against Chiasson, but is he really playing so well that Walker shouldn’t get a shot at his position for an extended period?
Probably the most frustrating event recently is when Tyler Graovac, who missed 21 straight games due to injury, came back to his first game and was rewarded with 3rd line minutes right off the bat. All the while Walker sat in the press box waiting patiently. There’s no excuse for that.
Even if Walker doesn’t get in games on a consistent basis, he should be playing the back end of a back-to-back sets. He can at least bring you fresh legs to a tired team.
To sit a player that helps your team while bringing speed, grit, and skill just doesn’t add up. And that doesn’t include that his development is being hindered.
As everyone knows, the Capitals aren’t as deep as the last two seasons. They need to make sure they can get all of their better players on the ice in order to succeed. Sitting Walker is simply not helping the team succeed.
By Luke Adomanis