Photo: Hershey Bears
Nathan Walker making it to the NHL at the start of this season was one of the best stories of the year so far. He was the first player from Australia who ever made it to the NHL.
Granted, he was born in Cardiff, Wales, but grew up in Australia, and considered to be Australian. On October 7, in the Caps’ home opener and their second game of the season, Walker made his NHL debut in front of his parents. Prime Minister of Australia, Malcolm Turnbull, called him up the next day to congratulate him on his debut.
Unfortunately, by the time November 30 rolled around, he had gotten into a total of seven games. This was despite injuries to other forwards, such as Andre Burakovsky, Brett Connolly, and Tyler Graovac. During that time, he had been passed on the depth chart by Alex Chiasson, who was good at killing penalties, and Chandler Stephenson, who had scored two goals and had four assists in his first ten games after being called up from Hershey.
The last game he had played was on November 16th against the Colorado Avalanche where the Caps lost 6-2. He played 8:43 and had two penalty minutes in the game.
Given the fact that injured players were beginning to return to the lineup, the Caps needed to make room for them, roster-wise. Given the fact that Walker had not played since November 16, the Caps figured that sending him down to their AHL affiliate, the Hershey Bears, was the most logical move to make. He could at least get more playing time there. Since he was no longer waiver exempt, the Caps had to place him on waivers, which they did so on November 30. If no other team claimed him within 24 hours, he would be assigned to the Hershey Bears.
Trotz was quoted afterwards, saying, “We looked at it with people getting healthy and that Nate wasn’t getting in the lineup. You can only build your game on the ice, so he’s going to see if he clears waivers. He’s got to play. He’s a good young man, but he’s still got to build his game. …
“Message to him was I’ve known many a players (sic) who have been up and down, many a times. Keep developing, keep getting better. That’s the message you want. I said to him, everybody knows he’s a real terrific person. You’ve got to make sure your game is — you’re on top of your game and playing lots and getting better all the time. I think we didn’t get him enough games, plain and simple.”
However, that plan was foiled. Walker ended up being claimed by the Edmonton Oilers. Edmonton figured he could add “speed” to their lineup, with that being identified as a team weakness. The Oilers waived forward Iiro Pakarinen to make room for him.
With being placed on waivers, Walker did not participate in the morning skate for the game the Caps played the Los Angeles Kings on November 30. With being claimed by Edmonton, he needed to fly to Calgary, Manitoba where his new team, the Oilers, were scheduled to play on Saturday December 2. This involved taking a flight across two different time zones.
Walker did not play in the Oilers game against Calgary, nor did he play in their next game which was at home against the Philadelphia Flyers. He made his debut for Edmonton on December 9 in a road game against the Montreal Canadiens which the Oilers won 6-2. He played 12:46, with no goals or assists.
Edmonton continued their road trip in the East, with games In Toronto and Columbus, but Walker did not play in either of those games. They returned home to play Nashville on December 14 and then on the road to play Minnesota on December 16, but Walker played in neither game. He finally got into another game against the San Jose Sharks on December 18 and played 7:54 and took one minor penalty.
The following day, the Oilers placed him on waivers. They needed to make room for Anton Slepyshev who they were calling up from their AHL team in Bakersfield. The Caps did not hesitate to reclaim him.
Walker reported directly to the Caps who were about to embark on a road trip to the west, specifically Arizona and Las Vegas. The Caps could not immediately send him down to Hershey because the NHL’s holiday roster freeze was in effect. The NHL has a rule that no player can be traded or sent down to the minors from 12:01 a.m. on December 20 through 12:01 a.m. on December 28. Hence, Walker accompanied the Caps on their western road trip to Arizona and Las Vegas which proved to be disastrous for the team.
Once the roster freeze expired on December 28, Walker was then sent to the Bears. Before reporting to Hershey, he had participated in the Caps’ optional skate that morning. He was one of the players skating with Washington, just in case Chandler Stephenson, who had the flu, could not play against Boston. He was in the lineup for the Bears in Saturday’s game against the Springfield Thunderbirds.
What a month!
Walker, Trotz’ Stranger
Capitals Place Nathan Walker on Waivers
Nathan Walker Gets Picked Up by Oilers
Oilers Place Nathan Walker on Waivers
Breaking News: Capitals Claim Nathan Walker Off Waivers
BREAKING NEWS: Capitals Assign Nathan Walker to Hershey