Aussie Chocs Are Getting Smaller

Nathan Walker “brings it every shift,” according to Coach Barry Trotz. (Alex Brandon/AP)

NEWARK — The Capitals’ preseason opener against the Devils was a mixed bag. Some players who had impressed Coach Barry Trotz in a training camp scrimmage didn’t look as good in Monday night’s exhibition, and others who had forgettable showings in the scrimmage ratcheted up their play in New Jersey.

Australian forward Nathan Walker was one constant. On a penalty kill in the first period, he raced the puck up the ice and then punched in a rebound off a Lars Eller shot for a shorthanded goal. The Devils went on to win the game, 4-1, but Walker was again a bright spot after also scoring in the Capitals’ intrasquad scrimmage on Sunday.

Meet Nathan Walker. He's from Australia. And he's really good at hockey. #ALLCAPS #CapsDevils

— Washington Capitals (@Capitals) September 18, 2017

“He has an effect on the game,” Trotz said. “He may not be the most natural goal scorer, but he has [an] effect on pace of play, the zone play. He wears people out. He’s in your face and gets people off their game, so there’s a lot of good things about Nathan that you like.”

Because Walker is now waiver-eligible, he entered training camp as a favorite to make the opening night roster, and he doesn’t seem to have taken that for granted through the first four days. Washington will almost certainly have two new wingers alongside fourth-line center Jay Beagle, and Walker’s penalty-killing ability and energizing style of play could make him a good fit there. Walker scored 11 goals and 12 assists in 58 games last season in the American Hockey League.

“You talk about a guy who brings it every shift, he does,” Trotz said.

[Nathan Walker traveled far to chase his NHL dreams with the Capitals]

At 5-foot-9 and 186 pounds, Walker is often one of the smaller players on the ice, but his speed and conditioning are an asset, especially when killing penalties. Twenty minor infractions were called on Monday night, which isn’t ideal in a preseason game when organizations would prefer to evaluate players at even-strength. But it also gave players like Walker a chance to show what they can do on certain special teams.

“I think it’s good for the young guys trying to crack the roster to get a taste of that,” Walker said.

“He was moving his feet,” Eller said of Walker. “He was going to the net and got rewarded there and scored a goal. He’s not afraid to hold onto the puck. He played very well.”

Trotz was also impressed by the play of center Travis Boyd, another hopeful to make the team, and prospect Beck Malenstyn, who’ll likely return to his Canadian junior squad this season. On a paid tryout, forward Alex Chiasson made his Capitals debut, and though the 27-year-old has changed teams in the past, he said, “This has been the biggest change system-wise.”

“When you used to different things, whether it’s in the offensive zone or the defensive zone, now you’re thinking a little too much on the ice,” Chiasson said. “I think as the days go on here, hopefully it’s a more natural thing than trying to be a robot out there.”

More Capitals:

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Young defensemen soak up wisdom from Capitals veterans in training camp

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