Riley Nash- Center
Simply put, Riley Nash, or as I like to call him, “the Better Nash (TM)” had himself an impressive sophomore season in Boston.
Much to the chagrin of one of our commenters, I once called the Cornell Big Red product a “literal” swiss army knife for Bruce Cassidy and his staff. While he was not “literally” an inanimate utensil, he was figuratively many things for the Bruins in 2017-18. At times a shutdown defensive forward, a top notch penalty killer, a reliable secondary scoring option and for a few weeks even a suitable replacement for local demi-God, Patrice Bergeron. He did all of that in the second year of a mere $1,800,000.00 contract with an AAV of $900k. He was LITERALLY one of the best bargains in the league by point/$, specifically 8th in the league (standard contracts, non-ELC) at $21,951.00 per point. Given his all around game, he was arguably a top 5 best contract for non entry level players.
His impressive improvement over his first season in Black and Gold did not go unnoticed outside of Boston, which led to a significant pay raise in a new city, in the form of a 3-year, $8,250,000 contract with Columbus.
Despite receiving only 0:25 ATOI on the power play, Nash still finished with 41 points (only 3 on PP), good for 8th on the team. Where Nash’s value really shined, was taking the heaviest burden on the Bruins 3rd ranked penalty kill unit, where he averaged 1:54 per game, tops for Bruins forwards. In a word, Nash was able to carry part of Patrice Bergeron’s normal defensive burden, and score at a top 6 rate, on a bargain contract. Any time a player steps into a future Hall of Famer’s shoes, as Nash did during Bergeron’s injury in X, and look like he belonged, is a noteworthy accomplishment.
Nash should have been the Bruins “7th Player” award winner, and I will argue that until my death bed.
Generally in a year end review like this, authors will look for 1 or 2 things the player struggled with, or needs to improve upon, but to be honest there really isn’t anything noteworthy for Nash. He had near universally positive possession metrics, he was productive in his scoring rates both at even strength as the image above shows, as well as on the PP, albeit in a small sample size. While he’s likely never going to be an All Star, or even a first line center, the former 1st round pick showed that he was more than just another depth forward in 2017-18.
For Nash it all started with a change of approach, one I spoke with Bruce Cassidy about during camp in 2017. In a nutshell, Cassidy believed Nash thought the game on a defensive level, almost to his detriment, in that in limited his offensive creativity and approach. When pressed, Cassidy stated he knew Nash had more offense in him, but that it was on the player to make changes to his game. Whether Nash heard that particular soundbite or not, he certainly took an offensive step forward en route to a massive career year.
Aggregate SCoC Grade: B+
Colin’s Grade: A
If we are viewing his grade from the standpoint of our expectation for the player prior to the season starting, it’s hard to not give him an “A”. He was signed to be a depth forward, whose career best 25 points in 2014-15 left plenty to be desired, and despite a solid 2016-17 season in Boston, he hardly inspired effusive praise. Through that lens, his 2017-18 season was a revelation, not only did he beat previous career best, he was on pace to almost double them had he not suffered a concussion on March 31st against Florida, the unfortunate result of a Torey Krug point shot that found it’s way directly to Nash’s ear.
While he was productive on the ice, he was also a welcome teammate in the locker room and during media scrums, where the soft spoken Ivy League graduate was always available to give a thoughtful or insightful answer. Admittedly, there’s a danger in falling in love with (and overpaying) depth players, however I have no doubt that Nash’s departure may be the hardest change the Bruins will have to overcome in their upcoming season. His versatility, hockey IQ and surprising production will be missed by the team and fans alike as he continues his NHL career with the Blue Jackets.