Red and Black Hockey
by David Lee on 07/14/10 at 02:06 AM ET
Carolina’s prospect conditioning camp ended on Saturday, and there was supposed to be some news coming out of that. Folks in Raleigh and also in Ithaca are awaiting word from Riley Nash about his plans for the fall. The big center could return for his senior season at Cornell, or he could turn pro. He repeatedly turned down pro contracts from the Edmonton Oilers, who drafted him in the first round of the 2007 Entry Draft. He indicated that he wanted to play in the NHL or stay in college, and he knew that his chances of making the big team were slim and none. After Carolina traded for him at the Entry Draft this summer, he said that his options were open.
At the start of last week’s prospect conditioning camp, the Kamloops native said that he would declare his intentions at the conclusion of camp. Canes assistant coach Ron Francis has been on the job, throwing his weight around in effort to convince the 21-year old to turn pro. Nash’s coaches at Cornell aren’t trying to dissuade him from leaving; they’re simply reminding him about the benefits of staying.
On one hand, Nash would be a star at Cornell, where the team suffered the loss of six players this past spring. Among those not returning are Nash’s older brother Brendon, who was an All-American defenseman. Also lost to graduation was the ECAC’s defenseman of the year Justin Krueger, who was drafted by Carolina in the seventh round of the 2006 Entry Draft. As an aside, Carolina will lose their rights to Krueger if he isn’t signed by August 1. There’s some speculation that he’ll return to his native Germany, but the Canes are trying to get him under contract for Charlotte.
On the other hand, the Hurricanes are eager to get the center in the system where his development will move along faster. More importantly, they want to get him under contract. If he decides to go back to Cornell for his final year, he might end up re-entering the draft, and Carolina will have made the trade for nothing. In terms of the college degree, there’s always time to finish up. There’s summer school, there’s on-line classes. There’s plenty of ways to get it done. This is what Kings’ defenseman
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Jack Johnson is doing. After being drafted by Carolina with the fifth overall pick in the 2005 Entry Draft, he refused to sign, saying that he wanted to get his college degree. Two years later, after a trade package with the Kings, he left Ann Arbor to sign with LA. Since then, he’s been “chipping away” at the remaining coursework needed for his degree. There’s no reason in the world that Riley Nash couldn’t do the same.
Nash was one of many players who fans had their eyes on last week. Sniper Jeff Skinner, who was the #7 overall pick at this summer’s Entry Draft was probably the most watched, with Jared Staal also getting a lot of attention. There’s a good chance that fans will be seeing more of Skinner sooner than later. He and Nash will both compete for a spot on the big team, centering the third line.
In the previous years, Nash told Edmonton that it was NHL or naught, but it almost sounds like he’s considering the American League. He was quoted in the News & Observer:
“If it comes to that point where (Ron Francis is) helping me out, that would be awesome. If not, I’m sure the AHL staff will do a great job. I have all the faith and trust in this organization and it was just a really good week.”
Either way, for Nash, the opportunity to play professionally is there. In terms of development, he would see lots of ice time in Ithaca or also in Charlotte, but the big difference is that in Charlotte (or even Raleigh), he’d be doing it on a nightly basis against better competition. If he’s not ready for the NHL, the AHL would be a better place for him. This prospect camp was supposed to give him and the coaching staff an idea where he would fit in. Unfortunately, he won’t have the benefit of waiting until the official training camp or the Traverse City tournament. He’s making a decision very soon whether to stay or go.
For whatever it’s worth, classes start in Ithaca on August 25 and the hockey season will begin on or around October 8.
My guess is that he’ll cave to the pressures of Ron Francis and he’ll end up in Charlotte to start the season. As for that third line center, I’m thinking that the Canes are going to pencil Jeff Skinner into that slot. Naturally, there’s a lot of off-season left and a lot can happen in training camp. And I haven’t seen either player yet, so I’m just going by what I’ve read elsewhere. I think Nash will make up his mind this week, which will give this discussion some more direction.
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David Lee is a restaurant manager with an unused degree in political science. He can be found at Carolina Hurricanes games, Scrabble tournaments and indie-rock shows. Sometimes, all in the same day.