On Monday night, after his first day of Capitals development camp, Nathan Walker was in the Comcast studios in Bethesda telling Brian Mitchell how much he misses “meat pies.”
On Tuesday morning, Walker was the only Capitals prospect skating around with a GoPro on his helmet, documenting a day in the life of the first Australian-raised player ever drafted in the NHL.
This has been a monumental two weeks for Walker, a 20-year-old left wing who was born in Wales but moved to Sidney before he turned 2 years old.
On June 28, the Capitals traded a pair of fourth-round picks [104th and 118th] to move up to the third round, selecting Walker with the 89th pick overall.
“You take a chance he’s not going to be there,” Caps assistant general manager Ross Mahoney reasoned after the draft. “We’d rather do what we have to do in order to move up and make sure we get the player we want rather than sit back and hope that player’s still there.”
It was nearly 2 a.m. in Sydney when Walker was informed of his historical selection.
“I was with my family sitting on the couch,” Walker said. “My agent let me know and the roof of the house blew up. My mom and dad were both crying. It was a special day.”
For the record, there have been two other players with Australian ties that have been taken in the NHL draft.
In 1984 defenseman Darren Gavin, who was born in Perth, Australia but raised in Canada, was taken with the final pick [250th]. And in 1994 the Detroit Red Wings took goaltender Jason Elliott, who was born in Canada and played briefly in Australia, in the eighth round [205th overall].
Neither played a game in the NHL and that’s why all of Australia is rooting for Walker.
''This is an historic event for Nathan, his family, and Australian ice hockey,” Australian Ice Hockey League commissioner Robert Bannerman told the Sydney Morning Herald. “It will generate broad awareness for the sport in Australia. It will encourage young kids to come and try ice hockey.
''It will inspire athletes to stay in the sport longer, and ultimately lead to more talent and fans for Australian Ice Hockey League teams. Nathan has united the ice hockey community. We will soon shift from celebrating his accomplishments to creating the future; improving training, facilities, capabilities, resources, etc. We have to exploit this opportunity to develop 'The Next One'.”
Walker’s journey from Down Under to the Washington began in 1994 with the release of the Disney movie “Mighty Ducks.” It was his first exposure to the sport of ice hockey and he began playing at the age of 6. By the time he turned 13 he was ready for a new challenge and, with the help of his parents, decided to play hockey in the CzechRepublic.
“It was pretty crazy,” he said. “A different language, a different culture. My mum came for the first two weeks and after that she got on a train and said goodbye. It was a little tough in the beginning, but every time I got homesick I’d call my parents and they’d tell me to stay because if I came home I’d have regrets.”
Walker was 18 and in his second season playing in the Czech League when he decided to leave for the Youngstown Phantoms of the USHL. He recorded 27 points in 29 games and caught the eye of Caps scouts, prompting an invite to last year’s development camp.
The Caps liked Walker enough to give him a few preseason games and the Hershey Bears signed him to his first pro contract. He played 43 games in Hershey, recording five goals and six assists.
Because he went undrafted two years in a row Walker was eligible to go back into this year’s draft and says he’s now anxious to reward the Capitals for their faith in him.
“I like to work hard,” he said. “Even if you’re having a bad game, if you know you’ve worked hard, one step above, it’s better than having a bad game and not working hard. I like to think I work hard every shift.
“The main goal is to play and stay in the NHL, but it doesn’t happen overnight or over one year. I’m prepared that I’m going to be in Hershey another couple years developing and then we’ll take it from there.”
Until then, Walker says he’ll keep plugging along and laughing every time a teammate chides him with “G’day, mate.”
“The first time I went to the U.S. they asked me if we had a pet kangaroo,” Walker said with a smile. “And every time they asked, I said, ‘Everyone has a pet kangaroo in Australia.’ You just embrace it. It’s all fun and giggles.”