“I think guys that size have to have that in order to kind of have success at this level,” forward Tom Wilson said. “A lot of the little guys you’ve got to watch out for because they’re sneaky, and he’s a tenacious guy. He’s a competitor.”
Said Walker: “That’s my kind of role as a player, to try to kind of get under guys’ skin and try to take them off their game, I guess you could say. Be the so-called pest out there. You know, I want to try to contribute offensively as well and just got to play my game, and hopefully, I get rewarded for that.”
With another round of training camp cuts expected this week, it’s unclear how much longer Walker will be in Washington, as he’s expected to again spend the majority of the season with the Capitals’ American Hockey League affiliate in Hershey. But Coach Barry Trotz is confident that if Walker doesn’t make the Capitals’ opening night roster, he’ll be back.
“The first time I met Nathan Walker, you knew he was feisty,” Trotz said. “The first time you meet Nathan Walker, you like him. The first time you see Nathan Walker play, it’s undoubted that he’s got a passion for the game. He’s determined to get to the National Hockey League, and I’m pretty sure he’s going to play in the National Hockey League.
“I don’t know when, but he’s going to play in the National Hockey League. I’m not going to give you that answer, only he can in some sense by his play. But he’s gotten really good. He’s a very good penalty killer. He’s competitive. Size doesn’t matter; he’s strong as an ox and he’s quick.”
Walker will have at least one more chance to make an impression, playing with Zach Sill and Paul Carey in Monday night’s preseason game. In his third season in Hershey, the first time he’s played a full year, he showed more versatility. When center Chandler Stephenson joined the Capitals for the first month of the season, the Bears were down a center and it was Walker who got moved, thrust from wing and into a position with which he had limited experience. Faceoffs were a challenge, but even though he moved around the lineup, Walker scored 17 goals and had 24 assists, his most productive season.
At training camp, Walker has earned the praise of the coaching staff several times as an energizing presence. He was lauded for fighting Montreal’s Andrew Shaw following Shaw’s boarding of Capitals defenseman Connor Hobbs. Shaw was suspended three preseason games for the hit.
“When someone hits someone like that, you never want to see that,” Walker said. “I’m always going to have a teammate’s back definitely in a situation like that. You know, you never want to see that.”
Confident that Walker’s NHL debut is on the horizon, Trotz is looking forward to how significant it will be for Walker’s home country.
“He’s going to be a really great story when he plays in the National Hockey League,” Trotz said. “He’ll be the first Australian player, who was born in Australia and really started training in Australia. How he’s done it, I mean, he’ll be an inspiration for a lot of people.
“Actually, it was funny because my daughter was in Australia for the last year, and she saw a lot of Caps jerseys. And when people found out that her dad worked for the Caps — they didn’t know what he did — the first thing they did was ask about Nathan Walker.”