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Walker keeps grinding toward a break with Capitals


CAPITALS ICEPLEX — Capitals forward Nathan Walker is drenched in sweat as he enters the Washington locker room, walking past a series of already-empty stalls after finally emerging from the ice. Most of his teammates have already hit the showers or even headed home. Walker doesn’t seem to mind too much as he unlaces his skates and jokes around with Jakub Vrana.

“It’s not necessarily about being the last guy [on the ice],” Walker said. “I like staying out there and shooting some pucks and trying to work on some little different things you wouldn’t get to work on during practice.”

The 24-year-old is reticent when it comes to speaking about himself, shying away from too much attention or emphasis put on his career. He’s soft-spoken, a hint of his accent breaking through as he downplays his success; last season, he became the first Australian to play in the NHL, as well as the first to record a goal and points in a regular season game and a playoff game.

“I wouldn’t say I’ve really been the most skilled player growing up,” Walker said. “But in my head I’ve always known if you work hard, good things are going to come. I’ve pretty much lived by that my whole life, I think I have been ever since I’ve gotten into playing sports.”

On the ice, it’s easy to pick him out of the crowd. He’s unique, but not only in regards to his heritage. Despite a 5-foot-9, 186-pound frame, Walker plays a physical game, unafraid to throw his weight around while speeding across the ice and playing multiple roles.

“[He’s] not fun to play against because he’s a little water bug and strong on the puck,” defenseman Matt Niskanen said, grinning. “He’s effective. He’s effective at what he does well. He’ll keep working, you know he will; that’s his character.”

Walker’s character that serves as his most valuable asset. Just look at last season. Walker made the opening night roster, didn’t get to capitalize on the opportunity, went on waivers, spent a short amount of time with the Edmonton Oilers, who the Capitals play on Thursday night, and didn’t get to return to the NHL until the 2018 postseason.

Under pressure, Walker doesn’t let his confidence waiver, nor does he let anything negative affect his philosophy or approach to his game.

“He’s done a good job of keeping a really positive outlook and attitude on everything. His work ethic is unbelievable,” Niskanen said. “Nothing’s been handed to him, he’s earned it, through a lot of determination and positive attitude.”

Washington coach Todd Reirden agreed, saying that Walker’s play, ability and dedication to elevating his game helped him stand out and win a roster spot heading into this season — and it still has him in the running to stay with the team through the regular season.

“I don’t think there’s many people that work as hard as Nathan Walker. His conditioning level is off the charts in how he practices, how he prepares every day to try and improve,” Reirden said. “[He’s a] very likeable, coachable player, so you want to see him have success. As a coach, you gravitate toward those types of people.”

With the season just getting started, Walker has been doing everything he can to prove he is ready to make the jump. Many obstacles remain in what has been a wild path to the NHL. Tom Wilson and Travis Boyd will eventually return to the lineup. Dmitrij Jaskin was acquired after training camp via a trade with the St. Louis Blues and will be tough to dislodge from that last remaining roster spot. Walker will just keep clicking along.

Sammi Silber is a fall intern for the Sports Capitol. She’s a senior at the University of Maryland, College Park and writes about the NHL for The Sporting News. She spent the last two years as the Capitals Beat Writer for The Hockey Writers. Sammi’s work has also been featured on Yahoo! Sports, Huffington Post and USA TODAY College. When not writing about sports, Sammi is DJing at WMUC-FM 88.1 on campus and working for Student Entertainment Events, the University of Maryland’s programming board.

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