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Blue Jackets rookie hopes to learn on fly

Columbus left wing Rick Nash, the top pick in June, jumped from juniors to the NHL.

By DAMIAN CRISTODERO, Times Staff Writer

© St. Petersburg Times, published October 23, 2002


Columbus left wing Rick Nash, the top pick in June, jumped from juniors to the NHL.

His name is Rick Nash. But it is not difficult to understand how, with a stroke of a pen, his last name, for some, turned into Cash.

Rick Cash. It kind of flows, and it certainly is apropos.

The Blue Jackets rookie, the No. 1 pick in the June draft, signed what Columbus general manager Doug MacLean called "the best contract given a junior player in the National Hockey League."

Nash, 18, signed for three years at the rookie cap of $1.185-million annually. He also has performance bonuses worth, if he hits them all, $8.561-million. That means during the life of the contract, Nash could make $12.116-million.

Not too shabby for someone who is making the jump from juniors and had not even taken his first regular-season NHL shift when he signed. But Nash said he doesn't believe he has to justify the deal by tearing the league apart.

"No, not at all," he said. "From my standpoint and Doug's standpoint, we're in this for a long-term relationship. I'm not here for the first year to blow the record charts out. It will take some time to work it all out."

Nash started great, scoring his first goal on his second shift during Columbus' season-opening 2-1 victory over Chicago. Things have since calmed down. The 6-foot-3, 188-pound left wing has not earned any more points, and he missed Thursday's game against the Blues because of a slight concussion.

He is minus-2 and averaging 8:34 of ice time.

That has not stopped the raves.

"The great thing is that his vision on the ice is strong," MacLean said. "He's able to make plays, and he's able to do it at a young age."

"Just great hockey sense," center Mike Sillinger said. "You wonder how the puck follows him. It's the talent. He has a vision at age 18 that's amazing. I didn't have it at 18.

"He's a pleasure to play with. He's a young kid, and all the eyes of the world are on him. He's only at the beginning of learning what it's all about."

What Nash has learned is the speed of the game is exponentially greater than it was in juniors. And the physical strength of his opponents is something he will have to work hard to match.

The Lightning gets its first look at Nash tonight when it takes on the Blue Jackets in Columbus. Tampa Bay left wing Dave Andreychuk said the best thing Nash could do is "find the guys (on the team) who can get you on the right track."

Nash apparently has done that with linemates Sillinger, 31, and right wing Grant Marshall, 29.

"They help you along the way," Nash said. "They tell me where to be at the right time; if you're lost on the ice, where to go, little things like that."

Asked if he could help Sillinger and Marshall with anything, Nash laughed and said, "I don't think so."

Lightning center Brad Richards has a pretty good idea what Nash is experiencing. Richards also made the jump from juniors to the NHL amid great fanfare and flourished.

Richards' best advice: "The biggest thing I've learned is not every night is going to be good. Highs and lows are the worst thing you can get on.

"He should realize how fortunate he is to be the age he is and be in the position he's in. Don't get too low because then you start thinking too much."

Nash said he draws confidence from players such as Richards and Atlanta's Dany Heatley, who succeeded right out of juniors.

"It just shows that if these guys can do it, why can't I?" he said.

"They're obviously great players. They have great expectations with their own teams. Hopefully, I can do as well."

Regardless of if he is known as Rick Nash or Cash.

LIGHTNING VS. BLUE JACKETS

WHEN/WHERE: 7; Nationwide Arena, Columbus, Ohio.

TV/RADIO: Sunshine; WDAE-AM 620.

THE LOWDOWN: Lightning coach John Tortorella said he can't afford to enjoy Tampa Bay's team-record, season-opening, five-game unbeaten streak (4-0-1). "This is just five games out of 82," he said. "You can't make a judgment of any hockey team five games into the season." LW Ruslan Fedotenko said he still is a little sore from a huge shoulder-to-chest check Monday by the Rangers' Ronald Petrovicky. Entering Tuesday's games, Columbus C Mike Sillinger led players with 70 or more faceoffs with a 70.7 winning percentage. Tampa Bay left wing Dave Andreychuk was second at 64.8 percent. Tampa Bay's Dan Boyle, with eight points, was tied with Dallas' Sergei Zubov for the scoring lead among defensemen. Boyle was tied for second with six assists. Lightning C Brad Richards (one goal, four assists) and Boyle (two goals, six assists) have five-game points streaks. RW Martin St. Louis has five goals and four assists in his past four games. LW Fredrik Modin has one assist in each of three games since returning from a strained groin. The Lightning leads the series 2-1-0 but is 0-1-0 at Columbus.

-- Compiled by Damian Cristodero.

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