WATCH TARIK EL-BASHIR'S INTERVIEW WITH NATHAN WALKER IN THE VIDEO PLAYER ABOVE
Every player on an NHL team plays a role.
Some play bigger roles than others.
In the coming weeks, Tarik El-Bashir and JJ Regan will rank the 25 most important players in the Caps’ organization, from least to most important, weighing factors such as past production, future potential and intangibles.
Today’s player: No. 19 Nathan Walker.
Walker was drafted by the Caps in the third round, No. 89 overall, in 2014.
In some organizations, he may have already made his NHL debut. But the Caps weren't just some organization in recent years as they spared no expense to pursue a Stanley Cup. In addition to boasting a deep roster of productive vets, Washington also managed to avoid a spate of injuries that would have necessitated multiple call-ups simultaneously.
As a result, Walker, like a handful of other prospects in Hershey, saw his upward mobility stymied.
Well, that’s about to change for the 23-year-old, who’s aiming to become the first Australian to reach the NHL.
When training camp begins in mid-September, Walker will have the opportunity to earn a job on the fourth line, perhaps the left wing spot vacated by Daniel Winnik, who remains a free agent. The right wing job on Jay Beagle’s line also figures to be up for grabs.
Walker is small, listed at 5-8 and 180 pounds or so. He’s quick, feisty, solid positionally and unafraid to mix it up with bigger opponents. Two years ago, he also showed some offensive upside by amassing 17 goals and 24 assists in Hershey.
In an effort to give himself every advantage next month, Walker traveled this week from Sydney to Arlington, Va., so that he could participate in the team’s informal pre-camp practices.
Will Walker claim a spot?
That’s not totally clear; the competition will be stiff. Other prospects like Chandler Stephenson, Liam O’Brien and Travis Boyd are going to be in the mix, as will a veteran like Devante Smith-Pelly and potentially others.
What Walker can be certain about is this: unlike previous years, he’s now got a letgit chance. And for a well-regarded prospect who’s got to clear waivers in order to be demoted, it appears to be a very good one.
“It’s pretty big,” Walker told me recently.
“But at the end of the day, I’ve got to grind it out. I’ve got to push for that spot. I've been [in Hershey] for four years now, so hopefully I can prove a point and get my chance up here.”