March 14, 2012 11:20 AM
In returning to the lineup this weekend, Riley Nash is also hoping to return to where he left off.
Now recovered from a concussion that cost him over a month of his season, the Checkers center is planning to suit up for Friday’s home game against Norfolk. It would mark the first time he’s played since Feb. 10, when he crashed hard into the boards during the first period of Charlotte’s 2-1 win in Milwaukee.
At the time of that game, his first back from his second stint with the Carolina Hurricanes, Nash had nine points (4g, 5a) in his last 11 games – the same amount he had posted in his first 30. Though he’d been playing well defensively throughout his second professional campaign, the offensive side of his game was just starting to get to where the former first-round draft choice knows it can be.
“Obviously I didn’t start the season the way I wanted to, but I started producing more before the injury,” said Nash. “It might not be right away, but hopefully I can get back to that.”
Nash said he started to turn the corner around Christmas, which, not coincidentally, coincided with the first NHL recall of his career. He was in a career-long, 12-game scoreless streak at the time of his Dec. 21 debut with Carolina, with his AHL breakout starting immediately upon his return to Charlotte.
“Players always come back from being recalled with some excitement, especially their first one, and he fed off that,” said Checkers coach Jeff Daniels.
That’s made the timing of not only his concussion but also a previous knee injury all the more unfortunate. Having only missed one game during his rookie season, Nash has sat out 16 this time around - all of which came after he discovered his scoring touch.
Though eager to get back into games and keep his momentum going, Nash is also trying to be smart. He’s been closely monitoring his condition, and it’s clear he wouldn’t be planning to come back unless he felt he was truly ready.
“(The initial hit) hurt quite a bit, and then the headaches started later and didn’t go away for two weeks,” said Nash. “They started to get better, but if you have three good days and then one bad day, you’re back to where you started.”
Nash had one such setback as recently as last week, but has been practicing fully with the team for the last several days.
“You’ve got to be cautious with head injuries, because it’s not something I want to deal with for the rest of my life,” he said. “I’m going to be using my brain for a while.”
A positive for Nash is that he’s been able to skate for the last few weeks to some degree, which should help with his conditioning and make it easier to transition back into the lineup. Recent struggles aside, he can count himself fortunate to have missed just one month of game action, with teammate Chris Durno out twice as long with a concussion of his own before making his return two weeks ago.
“You just never know,” said Nash. “Durno didn’t think he had one, then he had headaches that didn’t go away for two months.”
Unless one of Drayson Bowman or Jerome Samson return from Carolina before Friday, Nash’s return will be necessary to give the team a full allotment of 12 healthy forwards to dress against Norfolk, which had a 15-game win streak heading into Wednesday’s action. In this week’s practices, Nash has been skating with Zach Boychuk and A.J. Jenks on a fourth line that should easily be the best in the league.
“The other guys are giving us grief about (being on the fourth line),” admitted Nash. “I’ve been there before. It’s not a big deal.”
That shows the kind of depth that the Checkers have at their disposal already, never mind when Bowman and Samson do return for the playoff run, if not sooner.
“It happened to us last year where we ran into Binghamton in the playoffs,” said Boychuk of the Checkers’ Eastern Conference Final ouster at the hands of the Ottawa Senators’ affiliate. “They had a lot of guys that had come back from the NHL and we just couldn’t handle it.
“Come playoff time, it’s going to be really tough for the coaches to decide who’s going out there.”