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Rick Nash Enjoying Resurgence Following Concussion Issues

by Photo of Andrew Wallach

Rick Nash is healthy again and giving NHL teams fits

Rick Nash Enjoying Resurgence Following Concussion Issues

I was watching the New York Rangers game against the Calgary Flames last week with a friend of mine. My friend has very little knowledge of the NHL or of hockey in general. But he made a statement about a Rangers player that I found interesting. He said "Man, that number 61 is a beast. It looks like he can do anything he wants on the ice." The player that my friend was referring to is Rick Nash, and he was right. So far this season, Rick Nash is playing at a level that Ranger fans have not seen since he donned the blue sweater. Why the resurgence? It's all about his health.

In just the third game of the 2013-14 season, Nash suffered a concussion on a hit by San Jose Sharks Defenseman Brad Stuart. It was the second concussion that Nash had suffered in an eight-month span, with the previous one coming courtesy of Boston Bruins power forward Milan Lucic. After the hit by Stuart, Nash would miss the next 17 games over six weeks. He would return in the middle of November in a game against the Bruins, but did not look like himself for much of the remainder of the year. He finished with a respectable 26 goals but performed an impressive disappearing act in the playoffs, scoring only three goals and disappointing Ranger fans during the teams' run to the Stanley Cup Finals. 

Fast forward to last Tuesday's game against the Flames. Nash took a long outlet pass off of the boards and skated in on the goalie. Instead of staying to the outside and shooting on net like he did so much last year, he powered hard to the net and used his size and strength to fend off a defenseman and deke around the goalie for a goal. That play does not happen last year. And it only makes sense that the concussion problems were the cause of such passive play. Anyone who understands hockey can look and see a huge difference in his game. He's quicker to and on the puck, more physically active behind the goal line, and much more willing to use his big frame in the "dirty" area in front of the net.

It's not like he woke up one day and said "okay, I'm better now." Returning to live action following a concussion can be tricky. Doubts spread into your head about whether you can handle a big hit. Those hesitations lead to second guessing on the ice, and that is never good for any player. Nash admitted as much during training camp this past summer saying, "Coming back from the concussion, it was tough for me to feel comfortable on the physical side of it. Maybe I was a little 'careful' but it wasn't as much being careful as just not feeling comfortable in those physical situations during the game." 

This season's resurgence has put to rest any fears of the concussion issues lingering on for the Ranger's star forward. Through the teams' first 32 games, Nash is second in the league with 23 goals. Currently on pace for 58 goals and 97 points, he is set to shatter his previous career highs of 41 goals and 79 points. Clearly, a healthy mind and body, along with playing in coach Alain Vigneault's free-flowing offensive system, have allowed Nash to focus on his game and get back to the level of play that he enjoyed early in his career.

I often compare Rick Nash to LeBron James. Not so much because of the dominance over their sport, because Nash doesn't come close to LeBron in that metric. But they do have some things in common. Both were number one overall picks in their respective league's draft. And they both have the mix of size, speed, and skill to take over at any time they want. Granted, taking the game into your own hands is more difficult in hockey than basketball. But a healthy Rick Nash should scare other teams because his combination of size and speed along with his elite sniping ability is a rarity in the NHL. Combine those skills with his re-discovered aggression and confidence, and he should be a force to be reckoned with for the remainder of the NHL season. Ranger fans are hoping that he will continue this play through the playoffs as well as they try to become only the second team since 1978 to lose the Stanley Cup Finals and make it back to the finals the next year.

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