On the Capitals roster, Walker’s NHL debut oh so close
Wednesday, October 4, 2017 - Submitted by Bernard McNamara
Nathan Walker steps out in the Washington Capitals' red jersey against the Carolina Hurricanes. Source: NHL.com
Australian Nathan “Stormy” Walker’s journey to the National Hockey League (NHL) has been nothing short of incredible. From his inline hockey beginnings in Sydney, Australia to being drafted into the NHL by the Washington Capitals in 2014, and now, making their 23-man roster, Nathan’s career is one giant leap closer to making Australian hockey history.
The Capitals confirmed on Thursday morning that Walker is on their 23-man roster to start the 2017/18 season. Walker plays on the wing and Head Coach Barry Trotz has deployed him on the fourth line, which is typically described as an “energy line”.
Forwards on an energy line are expected to pressure opponents, deliver body checks and keep the puck in the offensive zone, a role Walker is very familiar with.
“I get in on the fore check and I’m a pesky little player,” said Walker.
“I try to get into the corners and get the top guys off their game, cause a little ruckus down there and chip in the with some goals every now and then.”
Walker’s gritty style of play has been a bright spark in an underwhelming pre-season for the Washington Caps.
The young Australian scored a highlight-reel goal in the opening pre-season game and backed that up in his second pre-season game to be named the Capitals’ player of the game in a 4-1 loss to the St. Louis Blues.
Despite a lack-lustre pre-season the Capitals have a competitive roster. Last season, the Capitals won the Presidents Trophy, awarded to the team with the best record during the regular season. The team also boasts some of the NHL’s best players, including super star captain Alexander Ovechkin and playmaker Nicklas Backstrom.
The Capitals on ice success has had a flow on effect to the team’s payroll which has worked in Nathan’s favour. Each NHL team has a $75M USD annual salary cap, and after signing forward Alex Chiasson, the Capitals are only approximately $30,000 (.04%) under their salary cap with 23 players on the roster.
The Capitals certainly believe Walker has what it takes to be an effective NHL player, rewarding the young Australian with a 2-year, $1.3M USD waiver-exempt contract during the offseason. Walker consequently carries a $650,000 annual cap hit. This commercial player profile means that Nathan provides the Capitals are valuable, affordable, low-risk fourth-line player. A perfect mix for the Washington franchise.
Nathan makes his presence known in the pre-season against the St Louis Blues. Source: NHL.com
Making the Capitals’ roster was a huge step for Walker, but he has one more hurdle to clear: to make it onto the ice.
Heading into opening night, the Capitals have a logjam of players for their third and fourth line roles, which mean Walker could be starting the season on the squad, but as a healthy scratch.
On Wednesday morning the NHL announced that Capitals forward Tom Wilson has been suspended for four games for a boarding penalty in the final pre-season game, coming down hard on Wilson for his second illegal hit in the offseason.
Chiasson is tipped to the replace Wilson on the third line, which for Walker, means battling with wingers Tyler Graovac and Devante Smith-Pelly for the wing position on the fourth line.
The Capitals start the 2017/18 season on the road, facing off against the Ottawa Senators on Friday morning (AEDT), before heading home to host the Montreal Canadians on Sunday morning (AEDT).
There are 82 games in the NHL regular season and the Capitals have a tough schedule to start the year. Eight of their first twelve games will be played on the road and the Capitals will have to rely on the roster to offset potential injury or illness with a heavy travel schedule through western Canada.
Walker has proven that he deserves a spot on the Washington Capitals roster and his goal of playing in the NHL is now just around the corner. This Australian ice hockey player is no longer on the outside looking in.
Stormy’s final leap into the NHL may not happen on opening night, but Australian fans can expect to see him in a Washington Capitals jersey as they charge after a Stanley Cup this season. And of Australia will be behind him.