A year ago, our panel was pretty unfamiliar with the talents of Brendon Nash. The Montreal Canadiens signed the free agent Cornell graduate to a two year contract that garnered little fanfare last spring. Nash didn't join the Bulldogs for their march to the Conference Finals, and while he had participated in a Canadiens prospect camp the previous year, not much had been made of that appearance. He was expected to fill in as a 3rd pairing defenseman on the Bulldogs to start with, and there was some hopes that his modest offensive ability combined with his size could see him help fill the void left by P.K. Subban at that level. However, no one really had him in their sights for anything but AHL purposes.
Of course, we're not scouts, either. Our access to Nash beforehand was very limited, as all of our panelists live north of the 49th parallel/Great Lakes and without having him in the Canadiens system for the previous 3-4 years like other NCAA prospects, we only had his basic stats to really judge him by. Starting in the NHL preseason, Nash began to make some noise, scoring a goal and an assist in an exhibition against the Minnesota Wild, and while he didn't come close to making the team out of training camp, he set himself up for a large role on Hamilton right from the start. The end result was a strong AHL rookie season, including a brief NHL call-up, and at the end of it all, the highest ranked player on this year's list who didn't make anyone's top 25 a year ago. Yes, it's safe to say that Brendon Nash has made a name for himself amongst the Canadiens fanbase this past season.
Strengths: Nash has a large frame and is a relatively strong skater for a 6'3" defenseman. His skating ability is often noted, but it should be put into context: he's no P.K. Subban or pre-injury Andrei Markov, but he skates at an acceptable pace for a professional. He's an effective passer and puck distributor, and was Cornell's top scoring defensemen during his tenure there as a result. His offensive production has now held to be above average to excellent from the BCHL to the NCAA to the AHL (the same career path as former Habs player Ryan O`Byrne). For those looking at intangibles, he's a graduate of Cornell (anyone know what his major was?) who comes from a hockey mad family, the brother of Riley Nash, a former Oilers first round draft pick.
Robert Rice of Habs and Hockey had this to say on Nash: "(He's) a smart defenceman, (who) does not boast great strength despite his size nor a hard aggressive edge but he plays a very intelligent game in Hamilton, going to the right places on the ice and adding offensive contributions as he can."
Weaknesses: To put it quite simply, Nash is tall and lanky, and needs to add some muscle to his frame. He doesn't dominate opposition forwards physically, and personally wears down over time. His AHL season started quite nicely, but he hit the infamous 'wall' that NCAA prospects tend to hit as professional rookies. This is understandable, as he went from playing 120 total NCAA regular season games in four seasons to 96 AHL, NHL and AHL playoff games last year. Chris Boucher's lone scouting report on Nash happened after his NHL callup, late in the year, and his poor marks in that match were typical of his play down the stretch. However, he received praise from Neil Livingstone of the Copper and Blue for his work in the first round of the AHL playoffs, playing a singificant role in shutting down Oklahoma City's top six forwards.
Another factor working against Nash is his age and how much opportunity will be provided to him. He's already 24 years old, and there are at least eight NHL defencemen ahead of him heading into training camp this year. As Chris Topham of Lions in Winter pointed out, Nash "looked way out of his depth in a brief NHL stint" and is "well behind the young group of D (the Habs) have coming up." Nash's NHL callup came as a result of a string of injuries, including one to fellow Bulldog Mathieu Carle, so it was as much about circumstance as it was performance. He will have to battle with Mark Mitera for the #9 spot on the Canadiens depth chart.
Projection: Nash will have to make some strides as he enters his sophmore year professionally. He was a longshot to make the NHL when he signed his contract, and his rookie season at least put him on the radar. Players like Nash tend to be replaceable if they should suffer setbacks: the Canadiens have invested little in his development as an undrafted free agent signing, and since he doesn't project to have the upside of a top four NHL defenseman, he's a low priority unless he can firmly establish himself as a reliable player who can seamlessly fill a void at the NHL level should injuries strike. Nash will see time on Hamilton's PP unit, possibly on the first wave, and could see increased 5 on 5 icetime as well as some second unit PK work as well. The time for Nash to make an impression with the Canadiens is this year, before higher profile prospects like Jarred Tinordi, Mac Bennett and Nathan Beaulieu turn professional. He needs to seize this moment.
You can follow Nash on Twitter @bnash4
|#19: Magnus Nygren||#18: Brendon Nash||#17: ???|