Rick Nash will be remembered as a powerful winger with incredible puck control and an even better shot.
It’s those attributes that allowed him to suit up for more than 1,000 National Hockey League games, including stops with the Columbus Blue Jackets, New York Rangers, and Boston Bruins.
Sights were first set on the Brampton, Ont., native during his playing days in the Ontario Hockey League, when he spent two seasons with the London Knights from 2000 to 2002. It was then that the budding forward led a reborn franchise to greater heights, and it’s something those closest to the club truly cherish.
“He was our first pick when we bought the team (in 2000),” Knights co-owner and head coach Dale Hunter told Ryan Pyette of the London Free Press. “We weren’t strong teams then and he had to carry the load (for two years). He worked at his game and got stronger and had a great career.”
With London, Nash amassed a staggering 63 goals and 75 assists in just 112 games. It was that sort of production that led to his eventual first-overall selection by the Blue Jackets in the 2002 NHL Entry Draft.
In the lead up to draft day, Nash was a participant in the CHL’s 2002 top prospect showcase. It was there that longtime NHL netminder and guest coach Kelly Hrudey – who will be behind the bench at the 2019 Sherwin-Williams CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game – first got a glimpse of the winger’s character.
“At that time, the game was changing and without question the players were becoming more and more skilled,” Hrudey told the Canadian Hockey League. “He was going to try what was going to be considered maybe a fancier move back then, and before he tried it, he came over to me and told me what the move was and said, ‘Would you think that’s okay?’ and I gave him the green light.
“So he tried a move that by today’s standards most likely wouldn’t even be considered hotdogging, but back then, I thought it was very respectful of him that he wanted to fit in and he didn’t want to stand out for something that people would think would be showcasing his unique skill set.”
Nash later went on to sport the captaincy for five seasons in Columbus.
Just the fourth prospect showcase participant to later be chosen with the top pick in the NHL draft, Nash followed in the footsteps of Chris Phillips (1996, Prince Albert Raiders/Ottawa Senators), Joe Thornton (1997, Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds/Bruins), and Vincent Lecavalier (1998, Rimouski Oceanic/Tampa Bay Lightning).
In all, 14 past participants have been taken first overall in the NHL draft. Here’s how their respective junior careers stacked up:
Nico Hischier: The Swiss forward spent one season with the Halifax Mooseheads and put up 86 points in 57 games before going first to the New Jersey Devils in 2017. He was ultimately recognized as the Rookie of the Year in both the CHL and Quebec Major Junior Hockey League.
Connor McDavid: The Newmarket, Ont., product amassed 285 points in only three seasons with the Erie Otters and was soon dubbed ‘The Next One’. Lottery luck saw the Edmonton Oilers move into the top spot in 2015 for the right to choose the exceptional talent.
Aaron Ekblad: In 2014, Ekblad became the first CHL blue-liner to be taken with the top pick in nearly two decades. The Windsor, Ont., native starred with the Barrie Colts for three seasons, collecting 116 points over 175 games, before appearing with the Florida Panthers as an 18-year-old.
Nathan MacKinnon: The Mooseheads have pumped out top-level talent in recent years, and none may be more impressive than MacKinnon, who went first to the Colorado Avalanche in 2013. The sizable centre notched 153 points over just two seasons with his hometown team.
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins: The star forward spent two seasons with the Red Deer Rebels. In his first year, he was recognized as the Western Hockey League’s Rookie of Year after tallying 65 points in 67 appearances. His selection by the Oilers marked the club’s second-straight first-overall pick.
Taylor Hall: The toss-up between Taylor and Tyler (Seguin) was decided when the Oilers took Hall at the top of the 2010 NHL Entry Draft. The Kingston, Ont., prodigy skated for three seasons with the Windsor Spitfires and was recognized with a host of accolades, including CHL and OHL Rookie of the Year honours in 2007-08.
John Tavares: The New York Islanders’ rebuild was jump started when they landed Tavares first overall in 2009. The centre dominated over four OHL seasons and was named the CHL Player of the Year in 2006-07. Tavares is the last top pick to split his draft year between two clubs: the Oshawa Generals and Knights.
Steven Stamkos: The Lightning were started anew with their first-overall selection of Stamkos in 2008. The Sting centre spent two seasons in Sarnia and was named to the CHL First All-Star Team in 2007-08 after finishing that campaign with 58 goals and 47 assists in just 61 contests.
Patrick Kane: The American winger was with the Knights for just one season, but wowed fans and wooed scouts before his eventual selection atop the 2007 draft by the Chicago Blackhawks. Kane closed out his single season with London with 145 points, the third-best finish in franchise history.
Marc-Andre Fleury: In 2003, the Sorel, Que., native became the first CHL netminder to go first overall since Michel Plasse in 1968. Only months following his draft, Fleury played just 10 more games with the Cape Breton Screaming Eagles before stepping into the Pittsburgh Penguins’ crease.
Rick Nash: The former Knights winger was the first pick by the Blue Jackets in 2002 and was seen as a building block for the franchise that joined the NHL just two seasons earlier. In 2000-01, Nash finished his first season with London with 66 points in 58 games and was named the OHL Rookie of the Year.
Vincent Lecavalier: The Lightning called the name of the Oceanic centre in 1998 after he wrapped his last QMJHL season with 44 goals and 71 assists in 58 games. One year earlier, Lecavalier was awarded as the CHL and QMJHL Rookie of the Year after he posted 102 points in just 64 appearances.
Joe Thornton: ‘Jumbo Joe’ is best known for his awe-inspiring play-making abilities, which gained greater attention when he suited up for the Greyhounds from 1995 to 1997 and recorded 71 goals and 127 assists in 125 games. The Bruins took the St. Thomas, Ont., native with the top pick in 1997.
Chris Phillips: The steady blue-liner was the first name called in the 1996 NHL Entry Draft after he spent a single season in the WHL. Phillips split the following year between the Raiders and Lethbridge Hurricanes, picking up 48 points in 58 games, before joining the Senators.