Bobby Lemaire, Sports Editor
On July 23, 2012, the New York Rangers made a trade that was supposed to be one of the biggest in franchise history. The Rangers traded forwards Artem Anisimov and Brandon Dubinsky, along with defenseman Tim Erixon and the Rangers’ first round pick in the 2013 NHL Draft to the Columbus Blue Jackets for superstar forward Rick Nash, defenseman Steven Delisle and a conditional third round pick.
While Nash is one of the most talented players in the NHL, there were mixed reactions amongst the Rangers fanbase. The “Broadway Blueshirts” were just coming off a successful season in which they were the number one seed in the Eastern Conference after the 2011-2012 regular season and made it all the way to the Conference Finals before being ousted by the New Jersey Devils in six games. Was it worth breaking up a team that made such a solid run to obtain one superstar? While Anisimov and Dubinsky were keys to the Rangers’ success, General Manager Glen Sather thought that Nash was a rare talent that could not be passed up.
But in his first two years on Broadway, Nash struggled. During the lockout shortened 2012-2013 season, he scored 21 goals in 44 games. While that is a solid season for most NHL players, fans expected more from number 61. Then in the 2013 playoffs, he scored only one goal in 12 games. The next season, Nash’s offensive struggles continued. After the Rangers hired Alain Vigneault as their new head coach, fans and analysts alike expected him to have a breakout year, fitting into a new offensive-oriented system. But his subpar play continued. In 65 games, he scored just 26 goals and 39 points. While he did miss significant time due to a concussion, a player making $7.9 million needs to be more noticeable.
Then in the 2013-2014 playoffs, Nash continued to regress. As the Rangers made a run to the Stanley Cup Finals, Nash tallied just three goals in 25 games as they fell to the Los Angeles Kings in five games. When the team was desperate for goals, once again their best skater did not step up.
But the beginning of this season was going to be a key for Nash. Since New York gave up two fan favorites for him, and along with his ongoing struggles, patience in Madison Square Garden was wearing thin. He needed to step up his play and that is exactly what happened. While it is still a small sample size (just 17 games), he has been by far the best player on the Rangers and one of the top in the league. His 12 goals are tied for the league lead with Dallas Stars forward Tyler Seguin and Tampa Bay Lightning superstar Steven Stamkos. He looks quicker on the puck, playing more physical along the boards and is shooting the puck whenever given the chance. In an interview with ESPN, when asked about his hot start he talked about his training in the offseason, “I just tried to get faster and stronger this summer. As you get older, you realize that you have to start keeping up with these young guys and how fast they are. I did a lot of running and a lot of foot-speed stuff,” Nash said.
While his stats are probably going to cool down a little bit, Nash is finally living up to what Ranger fans expected when he came to New York City over two years ago.