We continue our prospect review and forecast series with a review and forecast for Nathan Walker. (You can access all of our Capitals Prospect Reports and player analysis on our “Prospects” page right here.)
Walker is in the final season of a two-year contract he signed on June 1, 2017 with an AAV of $650,000. He will be a restricted free agent following the conclusion of the 2018-19 season. Walker would have to clear waivers to be sent to Hershey.
Nathan Walker signed an AHL contract prior to the 2013-14 season. He spent the season in Hershey, posting five goals and six assists. He made enough of an impression of the Washington Capitals that they traded up in the third round of the 2014 NHL Draft to select Walker with the 89th pick.
Walker’s first season after being drafted did not go well. He struggled to find playing time in Hershey, scoring only one goal and three assists in 28 games. The Bears sent him to South Carolina in the ECHL to get more ice time. His stay in the ECHL lasted only six games because Walker torn his ACL on January 28, 2015. The injury would force Walker to miss the rest of the season.
The Australian came back from his injury with a vengeance. He netted 17 goals and added 24 assists in the 2015-16 season. He finished the season fourth on the team scoring list with 41 points. Walker was named Hershey’s Man of the Year, Unsung Hero and Most Improved Player for the season. He then added five points in 20 playoff games as the Bears advanced to the Calder Cup Finals.
A broken hand limited Walker to 58 games in the 2016-17 season, but he still potted 11 goals and chipped in with 12 assists. He then tallied six points in the playoffs.
For his career, Walker has appeared in nine NHL games, all this past season. He has one goal in those nine games.
2017-18 SEASON SUMMARY
The 2017-18 season was a whirlwind for Walker. He started out by making his first NHL roster and became the first Australian to play in the NHL when he suited up for the Capitals against Montreal on October 7, 2017. Walker made it a memorable debut by scoring his first career goal. He found it hard to get into the lineup, after that and spent more time in the press box as a healthy scratch then he did in the lineup. This stretch culminated when the Capitals placed Walker on waivers in an attempt to send him to Hershey.
Walker did not make it through waivers and was claimed by the Edmonton Oilers. He only played two games for the Oilers before being placed back on waivers. The Capitals re-claimed him on December 20, 2017. Eight days later, Walker was assigned to the Bears.
It took Walker some time to find his legs in Hershey, but soon he was back to his signature full-speed ahead game. He had nine goals and 13 assists in 40 games with the Bears and scored Hershey’s first goal in their 5-2 loss to Lehigh Valley in the Outdoor Classic at Hershey Park Stadium on January 20, 2018.
After Hershey’s season ended with a last place finish, Walker was recalled to Washington and joined the Capitals for their run through the Stanley Cup Playoffs. He made his Stanley Cup playoff debut on May 7, 2018. He assisted on Alex Chiasson’s opening goal in the game six of the Capitals second-round series with the Pittsburgh Penguins. Washington would win the game 2-1 in overtime to seal the series four games to two. Walker’s assist made him the first Australian to score in a Stanley Cup Playoff game.
A few weeks later, Walker was on the ice after game five in Las Vegas celebrating the Capitals first ever Stanley Cup. Nathan Walker’s whirlwind season as a Stanley Cup Champion.
2017-2018 MONTH-BY-MONTH RECAP AND TREND ANALYSIS
The following is a compilation of our month-by-month prospect reports for Nathan Walker during the 2017-2018 season.
Nathan Walker needed game action after spending much of November and December on the long-term press box list in the NHL. Walker has found his legs in Hershey and his signature full-speed ahead game has returned. He is one of the few Bears that has shown up to play every night during the losing skid. Walker is one of three Hershey players to have scored more than one goal during the eight-game losing streak. He is back to mixing it up with whoever is in his way and his speed has been evident. His offensive game is picking up as well. He has netted two goals and chipped in with three assists in January. Walker tallied his first goal of the season in the Outdoor Classic on January 20 against Lehigh Valley and it was an effort goal. He beat the Phantoms defenseman to a rebound and chipped it in. Walker is finding his game and should continue to improve as the season progresses.
Playing every night has definitely helped Walker. He contributes in multiple ways. He brings the energy every game and is not afraid to throw his body around to deliver a hit. Against Rockford on February 24, the Bears were playing flat and uninspired. Walker dropped the gloves with Rockford’s Luke Johnson in attempt to get his team going. His offense has been there too. He has three goals and four assists in his last five games and has 10 points in February. Walker has also been seeing a lot of time on the penalty kill. The Australian-native is also starting to get time on the power play and has netted two power play goals. He has played some at center as well for Hershey and has the versatility and smarts to succeed in the middle. Walker is playing an all-around game and that is what will get him back to the National Hockey League.
Walker had 10 points in February. His offense has dried up a little this month. He has three goals and an assist in March. Two of those goals came against Springfield on March 17. The second of those goals was the game-winner in a 4-2 Hershey win, earning him the game’s first star. One thing that has not changed is Walker’s effort. The Aussie comes to play every night. He brings energy each game. Walker is often found mixing it up with bigger players. He still is one of the team’s best penalty killers and finds ways to contribute even when he does not score. The Aussie went down with an injury on March 28 and missed the last two games of the month. Walker has one more year on his deal with the Capitals.
A return to the NHL could certainly be in the cards for Walker. With the departures of Alex Chiasson and Jay Beagle, there are two bottom six forward spots open on the Capitals roster. Walker likely is the leading candidate to take Chiasson’s spot on the wing.
Walker’s game is perfectly suited for a bottom six role. He is gritty. He is not afraid to go into the corners to fight for pucks and is a physical player despite his small stature. He never takes a shift off and is all heart and hustle. He’s also a quality penalty killer. The Capitals lost a lot of heart and hustle when Beagle left for Vancouver. Walker can help make up for that loss.
By Eric Lord