A TEEN ANGEL SCORES FOR COLUMBUS-AND LIGHTS UP THE NHL
If LeBron James wants to know what it would have been like to play in an All-Star Game as a teenager, all he has to do is ask Ohio's other teenage phenomenon. Rick Nash may not have The King's star power, but the Columbus Blue Jackets left wing did take the ice for the Western All-Stars in St. Paul, becoming the first teenager to play in an NHL All-Star Game since Owen Nolan and Jaromir Jagr played as 19-year-olds in 1992.
Numerically speaking, the 6'4", 19-year-old No. 61 is one very interesting guy. Prior to the recent break, he had scored 31 goals, yet had been credited with only nine assists. And despite his league-leading goal total, Nash was a minus-21, due in part to his team's overall lack of talent.
The headline, of course, is his goal total. By the seasons's end, at 19 years, 291 days, Nash could become only the third player in NHL history to score 50 goals in a season that ended before his 20th birthday. (Wayne Gretzky was 19 years, 70 days old when he finished the 1979-80 season with 51 goals; Jimmy Carson was 19 years, 257 days old when he finished the 1987- 88 season with 55.) In addition, should Nash win this season's Rocket Richard Award, he'd become the youngest player ever to lead the NHL in goals in a season.
What's even more remarkable is that Nash is being compared to the game's all-time great goal scorers during a season in which the average game has produced slightly more than five goals (5.04)-the lowest rate since 1953-54.
By the All-Star break, Nash had averaged only 17 minutes, 35 seconds of ice time per game to rank 97th-yes, 97th-among all NHL forwards. We'll do the math for you: that's one goal for every 29:30 on the ice. Only two others with at least 10 goals averaged better than one goal for every 40 minutes played in that span: Markus Naslund (35:39) and Peter Forsberg (37:22).
You still won't find Nash among the leaders in the NHL points race, because of his low assist total. How unusual is his ratio of 3.4 goals per assist? Only one player has finished a season with a higher ratio: Peter Bondra of the 1994-95 Capitals (3.8 on 34 G's and 9 A's).
Of course, to get assists, you have to have teammates capable of scoring goals. At the All-Star break, Nash had accounted for a jaw-dropping 28% of Jackets goals this season. The last player to account for this much of his team's goal scoring was Pavel Bure of the 2000-01 Panthers, with 29.5%.
Nash's minus-21 rating also puts him in select company. Since the start of the expansion era in 1967-68, only five goal leaders have finished on the south side of the plus-minus tally: Bobby Hull (1968-69), Brett Hull (1989-90 and 1991-92), Keith Tkachuk (1996-97) and Bure (2000-01). None of them, however, finished at a double-digit minus, let alone a minus-21.
Pluses and minuses aside, Rick Nash is all too rare-a young player who puts the puck in the net. In these days of committee meetings to try to produce more offense, the NHL needs Rick Nash as much as well, as much as the NBA needs LeBron James.
Steve Hirdt is executive vice president of the Elias Sports Bureau.