The Columbus Blue Jackets quietly made one of the smartest acquisitions in the NHL this summer. Coming over from Boston, how big can Riley Nash be for the center-starved Blue Jackets?
As the bulk of Columbus Blue Jackets fans were in panic mode this summer over the potential movement of Artemi Panarin, Jarmo Kekalainen worked some quiet magic by signing center Riley Nash. Without carrying the flash and fanfare of a Tavares-like free agency, Nash’s value at his price tag could turn out to be one of the best bang-for-buck deals in the NHL.
The left-handed centerman comes to the CBJ after a two year stint with the Boston Bruins. Nash parlayed the momentum of a career-best season into a three year deal in Columbus. Scoring 41 points (15G, 26A), he moved up and down an injury-riddled Bruins roster, at times even slotting in with Boston’s top line.
It feels early to say, but Nash is almost guaranteed to start as the Columbus Blue Jackets third line center. I can’t resist but to acknowledge that Brandon Dubinsky ironically posted 41 points in his last season (2016-2017) playing the exact same role for the Jackets. This is coincidental at best, although it speaks to scoring indicators of a strong third line center.
Columbus Blue Jackets
Simply put, the team’s intentions for the lefty are too high for him to play lower than third. Subsequently, anyone who thinks Nash could slide ahead of number two centerman Alexander Wennberg doesn’t understand the Jackets long-term plan.
Before diving straight into his statistical profile, it makes sense to highlight some of #20’s premier qualities. For starters, CBJ faithful should feel a small sense of relief to know that Nash is a top notch penalty killer. With PK specialist Matt Calvert‘s departure, expect to see the new Blue Jacket on the first kill unit.
On the aggression spectrum between an Alexander Wennberg and a Boone Jenner, Nash fits neatly in the middle. Even though he is not characterized for his physical play, his numbers might surprise you.
More in the mold of a “cerebral player”, the veteran Canadian does a lot of things well that often go overlooked by casual hockey fans. On the other hand, these nuanced skills are like flashing neon lights to GMs and coaching staffs. If you haven’t had a chance to see Nash play much, let this serve as an early list of things to look for once he suits up with the Columbus Blue Jackets.
The first thing that jumped off the page at me was Nash’s giveaway to takeaway ratio. Even though that might not send you directly to the Blue Line Shop for a #20 sweater, it is a valuable stat that tells us a few things.
Unlike many young prospects, or more electric players, Nash is very careful with the puck. He plays a relatively low risk game, steals the biscuit often and sees the ice well. This has a lot to do with his cerebral branding. Overlooked more often than not, Nash’s elite puck awareness deserves a quantifiable breakdown.
If 55 takeaways to 14 giveaways doesn’t do it for you, RIley’s 3.92/1 ratio blows away anything any of the Columbus Blue Jackets put up last year. Alexander Wennberg’s CBJ high of 2.4/1 more than pales in comparison to Nash’s 17-18 performance.
If you’re newly intrigued by the turnover statistic, to better scale #20’s prime status in the category, consider Artemi Panarin’s 1.37/1, Seth Jones‘ 1.21/1 or captain Nick Foligno‘s underwhelming .97/1 ratios. If you didn’t plan to recognize Nash’s high skill in this area, you will now. It is arguably his most impressive feature as a player.
Averaging just 15:25 minutes per game, the new addition center managed to post a fairly impressive number of hits (86) and blocked shots (67). As mentioned above, he isn’t likely to be classified as a particularly gritty player, although he is not afraid to play physical.
For reference, his hits would’ve been sixth among CBJ forwards last year. More impressively, Nash’s blocks would’ve slotted him second among offensive players behind only fan favorite and human bulls-eye Boone Jenner.
Again, these are the small things that scouts and GMs swoon over. They won’t win you fantasy points, but they will help the team win tight games. It is also why the aforementioned Jenner just earned his near four-year contract.
Speaking strictly to point scoring, Nash’s new-age potential is peculiar. After posting a career-high of 41 in 2017-2018, the Blue Jackets are hoping the former Bruin is just now finding his groove. Remember Sam Gagner‘s surprise eruption in 16-17? Nash basically lived that same tale of revitalization in Boston last year.
Expect the 29-year old centerman to play big minutes on the penalty kill and next to zero on the power play. Without logging substantially more time on the ice, I don’t see much of an increase in Nash’s scoring. Playing between a number of talented wingers certainly helps his case, but 40 points is pretty sensational on just about any third line.
Last but not least, Riley’s second most impressive statistic is his plus/minus rating. When you consider that he stars on the penalty kill, and not the power play, his +16 is phenomenal. If the roles were reversed, I wouldn’t have been surprised if Nash were amongst the league leaders last season.
This number leans on his responsible puck handling but also his even strength defensive skill. The new Blue Jacket is essentially the opposite of an on ice liability. These figures aren’t a statistical anomaly from his breakout 17-18 campaign either. This is who Nash is. This is a highlight to his game.
Nash put up solid numbers across the ice last year with a different team, on as many as three different lines. Even though I see him sitting still on the third line with the Blue Jackets, I don’t see a big numbers jump or drop coming this season to the left-hander. I say this because his role from Boston to Columbus isn’t likely to shift much one way or another.
If #20 can play similar to his 17-18 level, Columbus Blue Jackets brass and fans alike will be thrilled at his bargain price tag of 2.75M per. Had he posted similar numbers for consecutive seasons, that figure could have been closer to $4,000,000.
No matter how you spin it, Riley Nash was considered by everyone in the CBJ community to be an all-star signing. Hopefully after reading this, the Jacket community will be more aware of what he brings to the table on a nightly basis. Sometimes it’s about more than just goals and assists.
Nash seems to be a perfect package of goods, designed neatly for the center-hungry Blue Jackets. Fortunately he has landed in a spot, on a team that will only ask him to do what he did at his last stop.
Minutes Per Game: 14:30