Commentary

Nash ready to make Rangers debut

All eyes will be on the two-time 40-goal scorer as he takes ice for Blueshirts

Updated: January 18, 2013, 8:42 PM ET
By Katie Strang | ESPNNewYork.com

BOSTON -- It will be a strange feeling when Rick Nash gets ready for his New York Rangers debut, lacing up his skates and pulling on a sweater that probably feels both unfamiliar and promising. It was a day that, at times, he wasn't sure would ever happen.

After spending the entirety of his professional career with the Columbus Blue Jackets, who selected him first overall in the 2002 draft, Nash will be indoctrinated into the passion of the Rangers' fans and the intensity of an Original Six matchup when the Rangers square off against the Boston Bruins at TD Garden in the season opener Saturday.

He knows it will be a stark contrast from the past nine seasons spent in Columbus.

"It's going to be exciting. There will be a lot of emotions," Nash told ESPNNewYork.com. "I loved Columbus. It was a great time of my career, and there was a time where I felt it was the only jersey I'd ever put on, but now I'm just excited to put on a Rangers jersey and start a new chapter."

The Rangers seem to feel that he could be the piece that could make them Stanley Cup contenders. The team doggedly pursued a trade for Nash last season after the 28-year-old star expressed his willingness to play elsewhere, but saw that effort crumble when Blue Jackets GM Scott Howson declined to make a deal.

The Rangers tried again this summer and finally got their man, acquiring the two-time 40-goal scorer in a blockbuster trade in August.

"I think we have him at the perfect time," coach John Tortorella said earlier this week.

Nash has accrued plenty of personal accolades -- Olympic gold, five All-Star game appearances, five straight seasons with 30 goals or more -- but is hungry for the team success he believes the Rangers can have following a trip to the Eastern Conference Finals last season.

"I spent the last four or five years as a captain for Columbus. My game and my character improved a lot from that," Nash said. "Coming into a team that already had success here, I think it's the perfect time for me to jump in and help out in any way I can."

Unfortunately for Nash, the excitement in beginning anew with the Blueshirts was stalled by a long, bitter lockout that lasted four months. Instead of making his grand Rangers debut in October, Nash shipped off to Switzerland as he awaited the labor standoff to end.

Not an easy task for a player eager to acclimate to his new surroundings.

"He's so anxious. He really wanted to play. I feel bad for him that way. Even moreso than everybody else," teammate Brad Richards told ESPNNewYork.com. "It's a big opportunity for him, and he knows it."

Richards faced a similar transition to Nash last season. Coming from small-market locales Dallas and Tampa Bay, the bright lights of Broadway were glaring at first.

Richards, whose devotion to routine borders on obsessive, will admit the first year wasn't easy.

There was the 45-minute commute to the practice rink, a far cry from his close proximity to the arena in Tampa -- "I could bike there if I wanted to" -- the infrequency of morning skates, the unfamiliarity with Madison Square Garden and the team's grueling season-opening road schedule. Not to mention the dizzying sights and sounds of a big city and the monumental weight of the expectations that accompany a nine-year, $60 million deal.

During several golf outings between the two this offseason, Richards shared what he learned with Nash and helped ease any anxiety about the change in scenery.

"When you're a little older and expected to bring some leadership, it's a fine line between looking like someone that's coming in and trying to change things and getting into the room and trying to blend in while trying to help," Richards said.

"I think Rick will feel a lot less weight on his shoulders with all the help he has in here. He can just go and lead on the ice by example."

Tortorella said he's grateful for Richards' stewardship in that area and hopes that it eases Nash's adjustment period.

"It's so important to Brad because he's such a mental case with all that," Tortorella said. "I think it's really good in how he can phase it over to the next guy."

Tortorella laughed about how different the two are off the ice but hopes that they can mesh well together as center and right wing of the team's first line.

If nothing else, he's convinced Nash is prepared to take the next step of his career. Tortorella had a quick chat with him after practice Friday and confirmed that much.

"He's ready to play."

Katie Strang covers the NHL for ESPN.com. She is a graduate of Michigan State University and the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism.
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