Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images
In their historical Game 6, series-clinching win against the Pittsburgh Penguins last night, the Capitals deployed five rookies, and despite this, still came away with a decisive 2-1 victory.
One of those rookies, forward Nathan Walker, made history of his own, becoming the first Australian player to play in the Stanley Cup Playoffs and helping the Capitals earn the victory with an assist on Alex Chiasson’s second period goal.
“Nathan Walker, he played unbelievable, played like a little mother fucker. That’s the only one word I have for him.” – Evgeny Kutznetsov, Washington Capitals, after Game 6 pic.twitter.com/cJHxvwM48d
— Greg Wyshynski (@wyshynski) May 8, 2018
Walker stepped in to support an ailing forward corp, even though he hadn’t played in a hockey game since the middle of April.
While last night was all smiles for Walker, the last 10 months have been some of the most up-and-down of his professional career.
A Long and Winding Road
Walker was highly-touted as the Caps’ most NHL-ready prospect by many within the organization (including former Hershey Bears head coach Troy Mann), and put up a strong showing in the preseason. After making the Capitals’ Opening Night roster out of training camp, Walker made his equally-historic NHL debut in the Capitals’ home opener, scoring his first NHL goal in the process.
Despite a strong effort in that game and a clear commitment to how he played his game, Walker was used sparsely by Head Coach Barry Trotz, who felt that veteran players such as Chiasson and Devante Smith-Pelly played a more well-rounded game than the former third-round draft pick (89th overall in 2014).
After playing in his first NHL game, Walker played in just seven games (recording no points), before being waived by the team on December 1; as he was not waiver-exempt, Walker was required to clear before the Capitals were able to re-assign him to the Bears. Before the 24-hour claim period was up, however, the Edmonton Oilers claimed Walker, much to the chagrin of many Capitals faithful. Walker would play in just two games with Edmonton before they too placed him on waivers.
The Capitals righted a wrong and reclaimed him just 19 days after losing him. Because he had already been claimed, Walker was exempt from waiver claims, and was assigned to Hershey, with whom he played 40 games, scoring nine goals and adding 13 assists for 22 points with a minus-8 rating.
With Hershey having missed the postseason themselves, Walker was recalled by the Capitals, and as mentioned above, performed swimmingly in his playoff debut. While the road to the NHL was undoubtedly a tough one, the last 10 months or so have been some trying ones for the 24-year old, who despite having just seven games in a Capitals sweater under his belt, is already a fan favorite. If Walker can continue his strong showing, he could become an underrated cog in what the Capitals hope will be a Stanley Cup run.
By Michael Fleetwood