BRIGHTON, Mass – Riley Nash has carved out a niche for himself as a reliable bottom-6 forward at the NHL. He plays the 200-foot game, is versatile enough to play all of the positions up front and puts up enough offense to realistically hold onto a spot as a mainstay on the third or fourth line for most NHL teams.
But the 28-year-old Nash is also a first-round pick, so there are always those flashes of offensive skill that hint at a little more under the surface. It’s never really manifested into anything consistent at the NHL level with his best season producing 10 goals and 24 points for the Carolina Hurricanes back in 2013-14. But even last season Nash really came on strong in the second half of the year and scored two goals in a huge road win over the New York Islanders, and now he finds himself centering a third line with a couple of offensive wingers in Danton Heinen and David Backes.
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Nash finished with a couple of assists in the Thursday night win over the Coyotes along with a game-high six shots on net and a plus-3 rating, and is on pace for six goals and a career-best 35 points. Nash hopes it’s the beginning of a hot stretch offensively for him and a line that’s looked good since they were put together, and there’s no doubting that the potential is there.
“I’d love to score more. It’s not like I’m not trying to score,” said Nash, with a good-natured laugh. “I think the opportunity when it presents itself, I need to be more assertive about getting pucks to the net. When there’s not a great chance, throw it there and hope that something good will happen. A lot of the top it’s off the pads with a guy going to the net, and it creates those second and third opportunities with zone time and everything else.”
Nash has a goal and five points with 13 shots on net in his last five games, and it looks like he’s in the middle of a productive stretch offensively. That being said, Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy is always looking to coax a little bit more out of a player that flashes high end shooting skills, hands and skating ability when he’s at his most confident.
“We hoped we’d get more pop out of him, and we’re starting to see some of it. The challenge we put in front of Riley is if he wanted to be pigeon-holed as a fourth line center, or do you want to grow into a third line center if you can show more offense?” said Bruce Cassidy. “I think he wants to do it, and we’re starting to see a little more of it. Sometimes it’s opportunity and sometimes it’s playing with the right guys, the right mix. Sometimes it’s about encouraging him to get out of that defensive mindset sometimes when he’s on the ice.
“Be mindful of what you want to do with the puck on offense, and he knows what to do defensively to be successful. Maybe we’re just going through a stretch where the puck is finding him more, and I do believe that does happen. He’s willing to be hard [on the puck] and take his chances, and if it doesn’t work out then he has trust in his linemates [to cover for him defensively].”
It’s up to Nash whether this is merely a hot offensive stretch or an uptick offensively in his second season with the Bruins, but his defense, versatility and reliability will always guarantee he’ll keep good looks from the Black and Gold.