Thursday Practice in Columbus: The Return of Rick Nash

Jim Cerny
BlueshirtsUnited.com

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Seventeen months after being traded by the Columbus Blue Jackets to the New York Rangers, Rick Nash was finally back at Nationwide Arena Thursday, as the Rangers prepared for an important late-season contest with the Blue Jackets on Friday night.

Nash has faced his former team twice already this season, both times at Madison Square Garden, but will be playing in Columbus for the first time since the trade on Friday. A concussion sidelined Nash when the Rangers skated to a 4-2 victory in Columbus on November 7th; and last season, of course, the Rangers and Blue Jackets--who then resided in the Western Conference--did not play each other at all due to the lockout-shortened schedule.

"It's tough to describe," Nash responded when asked after practice Thursday how he felt about his return. "Obviously it's the first time Being here since the trade, and there's a lot of excitement for me coming back to play in front of the fans I played in front of for ten years. There are a lot of good memories here, a lot of friends made. Of course the most important thing is the two points (Friday) night."

To keep his normal road routine, Nash opted to stay at the team hotel as opposed to the home he still owns in Columbus. He appeared very relaxed in meeting the Columbus and New York media contingent in the Rangers dressing room after practice.

"I'll have some family and friends here, so I know they'll be cheering," Nash said with a smile when asked what kind of reception he expects from the Columbus crowd on Friday. "I'm not sure what to expect. Me and the fans here have been through so much together, so if I get cheers, great, if I get boos--and I'm sure there will be some--I will move on from that."

The face of the Blue Jackets franchise ever since being the first overall draft pick in 2002, Nash is the Blue Jackets all-time leader in goals (289), assists (258) and points (547). He was a two-time 40-goal scorer in Columbus, and was named the fifth captain in franchise history in 2007-08.

"Rick meant so much to this franchise and to the fans here," explained Scott Arniel, the Rangers associate coach and former head coach of the Blue Jackets. "He not only was a great player, but was very involved in the community and with charitable endeavors. He is a low-key guy, but he was the face of the franchise here for many, many years."

After scoring twice in Ottawa on Tuesday night, Nash currently leads the Rangers with 22 goals, one more than the 21 he scored in 44 games during his first year on Broadway a year ago. In two games against his former club, Nash has scored two goals this season.

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Rangers head coach Alain Vigneault said he anticipates using the same lineup Friday night as the one he deployed in Tuesday's 8-4 victory over the Senators. The only question mark is if Benoit Pouliot will be back with the team. After scoring his 12th goal of the season Tuesday, Pouliot returned to New York for the birth of his baby daughter, and Vigneault was not sure when Pouliot will be able to rejoin the team--though he expects Pouliot to be in Columbus and in the lineup Friday.