Leadership isn’t always loud.
Not every leader is known for their rousing, Knute Rockne-esque halftime speeches. Not every leader is hailed for their ability to get into the face of their charges and spur them to action.
Sometimes leadership is closing your mouth as tight as possible, putting your head down and grinding through the adversity. It’s being an example to your teammates when the pucks aren’t bouncing your way. It’s playing every shift hurt. It’s being a constant target for every goon on the ice looking to make a name for himself by delivering a big hit to a star.
It’s Rick Nash.
Thus far, the Columbus Blue Jackets have followed up their first run to the NHL playoffs a year ago with a forgettable first half in this year’s season. The losing has been hard on everyone. Columbus is a young team in need of strong leadership.
So when the proverbial going gets rough, these Jackets look to Nash to show the way. But it’s not always just the younger players who are leaning on him to do more while times are tough. Sometimes it’s the oldest guy in the dressing room.
“There are a lot of top scorers in the NHL that don’t kill penalties, don’t do all the grunt work at the end and start of hockey games,” Columbus coach Ken Hitchcock said. “We tell him here to do everything. That’s a special player who can do that.”
And Nash has delivered.
He’s the Blue Jackets’ leading scorer with 47 points, which includes 23 goals. He leads the team in power play goals (7) and short-handed goals (2). A lot of other high-profile, top-tier NHL scorers aren’t willing to do those little things on special teams, especially when the season appears to be on the brink of collapse.
“There’s not many players in the world that can go out and be one of four or five penalty killers, kill three-on-fives, play five-on-threes, play five-on-fours, do everything. And Rick has to do it every night,” Hitchcock said. “There’s a lot of scoring guys who went through scoring struggles like Rick went through who don’t kill penalties, which really zaps your energy.”
The scoring struggle Hitchcock is referring to is Nash’s career-high 11-game scoreless streak, which he snapped in a recent game against Chicago. Since ending that dry spell, Nash has been on a tear.
In the past three games, against some of the better competition the NHL has to offer, Nash has scored four goals and recorded five points, which included the 400th point of his young career.
So is it too late for this quiet, do-it-all leader to right the ship and make a playoff push for the Jackets down the stretch?
“I don’t look at ‘too late,'” Hitchcock said of the prospects for the remainder of the season. “You’re a team. I look at it as the growth of a team. We’re right on the edge.”
Given their uneven play, it’s hard not to envision the Jackets with a white-knuckled grip on that edge Hitchcock is referring to.
But with a leader like Nash, who is willing to do whatever it takes, hope springs eternal.