By Matt Calamia
After being taken by the Toronto Maple Leafs in the 2010 NHL Draft, Josh Nicholls has found a home in the Rangers organization following a strong first season as a professional.
Nicholls, 22, was not qualified by Toronto and re-entered the 2012 NHL Draft, where he was not selected by another team.
The Rangers signed him to a contract after Nicholls posted 47 goals and 85 points in his final season with the Saskatoon Blades of the Western Hockey League in 2012-13.
Nicholls spent most of last season with the Greenville Road Warriors of the ECHL — though he appeared in six games with Hartford of the American Hockey League — and posted 20 goals and 42 points in 63 games with the Road Warriors, impressive numbers for a player adjusting to the professional game out of juniors.
“It was definitely a big learning curve,” Nicholls told BlueshirtsUnited.com on Wednesday at the team’s prospect development camp. “I think it was for the best, though. You need to get those growing pains out of the way and I was thankful for my time in both Hartford and Greenville. I learned a lot in those places from a lot of experienced guys. It just makes me more ready coming to camps like these, especially training camp next year.”
Through three days of camp, Nicholls has been one of the most noticeable forwards on the ice, using his size and speed effectively during the 40-minute scrimmages, as well as his skill in the shootout.
Still, the adjustment must be made going from facing off against junior-aged players to older opponents. Nicholls has embraced that challenge and has leaned heavily on his best attributes to be an effective player.
“I think every game you slowly get better, you get more comfortable playing pro,” Nicholls said. “I think the experiences I had this year of learning how to play against big bodies and using my strengths as an asset, I think I learned a lot this year.”
Despite being in the organization a little over a year, Nicholls returns as one of the more experience players in camp, which has added a level of comfort to what could — and often is — a stressful week for the players looking to standout with the eyes of the organization looking down.
“I think coming for a second time, you kind of know more people here in the organization,” Nicholls said. “You’re more comfortable with the guys and stuff.”
“As far as my game, I just feel a lot more confident and a lot more better than last time around. I’ve been trying to display my skill and my speed and I think I’ve done a pretty good job this camp and I’m still looking to get better.”
Despite just one season of professional hockey under his belt, Nicholls said he’s eyeing the bright lights of Broadway and is hopeful he can show he’s taking the steps towards fulfilling his life-long dream of playing in the National Hockey League.
“I think just for myself, an time I come here and put on the Rangers jersey, I want to show the staff I’m getting closer to being ready to play for the big club,” Nicholls said with a smile. “That’s everyone’s dream here, is to be a Ranger, and I think every time you come out here, you have to show them you’ve made improvements and that you’re that much ready to make the NHL.”