THE first Aussie ever selected in the NHL draft was on the verge of making his Washington Capitals debut according to their coach.
Then he got injured.
But it could merely be a speed-hump along Nathan Walker’s journey to the NHL.
Washington head coach Barry Trotz gave the biggest indication yet that Walker’s long-awaited NHL debut may not be far off after name-checking the Sydney product as one of the players they had hoped to promote from their affiliate team Hershey following the AHL All-Star Break.
Unfortunately a broken hand Walker sustained blocking a shot in Hershey’s 4-2 AHL victory over the Springfield Thunderbirds couldn’t have come at a worse time.
“Nathan Walker was a name that we’re thinking about bringing up and [then] he got hurt,” Trotz said two weeks ago.
“So [Nathan] will be eliminated for a little bit.”
With Walker ruled out of the promotion, Trotz called up forward Chandler Stephenson and defenseman Christian Djoos.
“There’s been a lot of guys that we’ve been happy with that we feel are going to play for us,” the coach said.
“All that being said, we try to take these opportunities when we’re pretty healthy and bring up guys and take a peek at them.”
The Washington Capitals organisation took Walker 89th overall in the 2014 NHL draft, and have watched him develop, battling through injury and form setbacks, to become a key player in the Hershey Bears line-up.
The left wing had a breakthrough season last year with 41 points, was named Hershey’s most improved player and almost won the Calder Cup with the team. So far this season he has 19 points (nine goals, 10 assists) in 42 games.
Walker is expected to miss 4-6 weeks recovering from his recent hand fracture.
The Metropolitan Division leading Capitals are on a six-game winning streak and even when healthy again it won’t be easy for Walker to get his foot in the door on such a stacked, in-form team eyeing another big showing in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
But with just 2-4 weeks left sidelined with the injury, there is a possibility Walker could still get a look-in on the Washington roster before the season concludes on April 9, 2017, and finally notch another historic first — the only Aussie to ever play in the NHL.
Melanie Dinjaski covers US Sports for Fox Sports Australia. Follow her on Twitter @MelanieDinjaski