It was 2 a.m. in Australia when Capitals prospect Nathan Walker received a long-awaited phone call last month.
Washington had traded up into the third round to select the forward with the 89th overall pick in his third and final year of draft eligibility.
“From there on,” Walker said, “the roof on the house pretty much blew off.”
At that moment, Walker became the first Australian ever drafted into the NHL. The 20-year-old, whose initial interest in hockey derived from the “Mighty Ducks” movies, is one of several players hoping to further their development at the Capitals’ annual prospect camp.
“The main goal is to play and stay in the NHL,” Walker said Monday. “Obviously, it doesn’t happen overnight or in one year.”
In a rather unique situation, Walker was a regular participant in Washington camps prior to being drafted. He was an unsigned invitee to training camp last season, parlaying an impressive preseason into an AHL contract.
“It was really valuable. I spent two weeks at [training] camp and the amount of stuff that I learned was just outrageous,” said Walker, who left home at 13 to play hockey in the Czech Republic. “I came out from that camp knowing a lot more and being a lot better — not only as a player, but also as an individual as well.”
With Washington’s minor-league affiliate in Hershey, Pa., Walker scored five goals and 11 points in 43 games. The Capitals’ scouting staff had seen enough to officially make him a member of the organization.
“We’ve been following Nathan for a few years,” assistant general manager Ross Mahoney said at the draft. “He’s obviously ahead of some of the other players … because he has been playing with men.”
Walker’s unusual journey toward his NHL dream has taken him worldwide. Now that he is closer than ever, he plans to take his time.
“I’m prepared that I’m going to be in Hershey for another couple years developing,” he said. “We’ll just take it from there.”