Riley Nash joins Toronto Lightning ahead of Maple Leafs game

The Lightning added depth to center position Tuesday when they claimed veteran Riley Nash on waivers from the Winnipeg Jets. He joined them in Toronto, where they face the Maple Leafs on Thursday.

“It’s been a little crazy 48 hours for me for sure,” said Nash, 32, after Wednesday’s optional practice, his first with some of his new teammates. “… Obviously I have an opportunity here with a very good team that are back to back (champions) and still have a very good chance. “

Nash is a familiar face for the Lightning having played each of the last three playoffs against them. He was a member of the Boston Bruins in the 2018 playoffs and the Columbus Blue Jackets in 2019 and 2020.

“Just a reliable, tough, two-way cross,” said Lightning assistant Jeff Halpern. “… I haven’t seen him this year, but the years at Columbus, just a guy who shows up at every game and comes in and organizes his line and he’s someone you rely on as a ‘team to right the ship, both times and defending and failing before, so I think we’re really excited to have him.

Nash, for his part, learned a few things about championship-level hockey playing against the Lightning.

“They had this instinct that no matter how difficult the road, they were going to get the job done,” he said. “It really made it very difficult for us. Obviously, they came out on top and went all the way. That resolution they found was how deep you have to dig, and now you’ve seen it in years running.

Claiming Nash didn’t cost the Lightning anything. He will count $ 750,000 – the league’s minimum – against the salary cap and become a free agent at the end of the season, making him a low risk acquisition.

Nash has 63 goals and 172 points, as well as 138 penalty minutes, in 593 games in 11 seasons with Carolina, Boston, Columbus and Winnipeg. He averaged 11 points over his three seasons with the Blue Jackets after a career-high 41 points (15 goals, 26 assists) in 2017-18 with the Bruins.

Nash, who has taken four penalty minutes and seven shots on goal in 15 games this season, said it was difficult to find a rhythm with a different system in Winnipeg, especially since it was about of its third stop in less than a year. He played for Columbus in 2020-21 before being traded to Toronto for the playoffs and then signing with Winnipeg as a free agent last summer.

“I’m just trying to find some consistency in my game this year,” Nash said. “I feel like over the last couple of years that’s kind of what I’m doing – stable in the reliable zone, hoping to regain an offensive touch. I know that in years gone by, he’s been there so I know I can do it. It’s just a matter of having confidence and seeing the puck go into the net.

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The Lightning are hoping Nash can bring some stability down the middle and some extra flexibility. With extra crosses, they can move one up or down the roster in different places on the wing, and that helps on nights they choose to play 11 attackers (with seven defenders).

“I think the flexibility that it gives us is probably the most important thing,” said Halpern.

If Nash can do for the Lightning what he has done for other teams in the past, Halpern said, he will free up minutes and slots for young players like Taylor Raddysh, Boris Katchouk and Gabriel Fortier.

“He’s just a good player,” said Halpern. “Don’t compare him to our young guys or our veteran guys. He’s just a good player, and you can find him a role and a place, and maybe that frees up another player for his minutes.

Nash already has some familiarity with his new team. Shortly after being claimed, defenseman Zach Bogosian – who played alongside Nash in two games with Toronto in the playoffs – was the first teammate to reach out. Nash had lunch with some of the guys before practice and got a feel for the close bond between the team.

“(Bogosian) is such a great guy,” Nash said. “He was one of the first people I spoke to, and (he) just talked about the group and how great they are, how tight-knit they are and the way things are done here. It obviously gave me a lot of excitement right away. … This is a special group to be a part of, and I just hope to add to it.

Contact Mari Faiello at [email protected]. To follow @faiello_mari.

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