By GREGG DRINNAN
Daily News Sports Editor
Riley Nash has spent three years at an Ivy League university. He has said “thanks, but no thanks” to one NHL team. His NHL rights were traded on Saturday. He is faced with making a rather large decision this summer.
Not that stuff. All of that is like a solitary mosquito on a bull elephant’s butt. Pressure is what he and his brother, Brendon, will face today as their older sister, Jenna, gets married.
“We’re emceeing it so . . . we’ve got a big job ahead of us,” Riley says, adding, with a laugh, “We got roped into this one.”
He may have gotten roped into facing the folks and cracking funny during a wedding reception. But Nash, at 21 years of age and having finished his junior season at Cornell University, isn’t about to get roped into an NHL contract.
Born in Consort, Alta., but having moved to Kamloops with his family before he was a year old, Nash burst onto the NHL scene during the 2007 draft when the Edmonton Oilers chose him with the 21st pick of the first round.
Three years later, however, he hadn’t signed with the Oilers. So, on Saturday, they dealt his rights to the Carolina Hurricanes for a second-round selection with which they took Martin Marincin, a Slovakian defenceman. On Tuesday, the Prince George Cougars selected Marincin with the first pick of the CHL import draft.
“I don't think there's any secret that Riley wanted another opportunity with another organization and now he's got one," Stu MacGregor, the Oilers’ head scout, told Jim Matheson of the Edmonton Journal. "We determined to get the value for him now and not wait any longer."
Had the Oilers hung onto Nash and not been able to sign him a year from now, they would have received the 51st pick in the 2012 draft as compensation.
Edmonton general manager Steve Tambellini told Matheson: "I didn't want him getting into his senior year of school, then when it was over, deciding he didn't want to play for us. . . . By trading Riley now, we get the 46th pick, five spots better.”
Nash says he understands the Oilers’ frustration but . . .
“It was just a decision I had to make,” he adds. “Even now, I don’t know if I’m ready to step out yet. I guess it kind of put them in a tough spot, which I feel bad about. But, in the end, I have to try and make a career out of this, so . . .”
What made things that much tougher was the presence of MacGregor, the former Kamloops Blazers general manager who makes his home in Kamloops.
“We reffed lacrosse together a lot,” Nash says. “He’s a great guy and I felt bad because I know him fairly well and I respect his opinion to the utmost. I wish it could have worked out.”
Nash has played three seasons with the Big Red — he has put up 102 points, including 37 goals, in 102 games — but remains undecided about returning for his senior season.
He doesn’t know a whole lot about the Hurricanes because, while he had heard that he might be traded, he never had the feeling that Carolina was one of the probable destinations.
What Nash didn’t know was that Ron Francis, the Hurricanes’ associate head coach and director of player personnel, was keeping an eye on him. Francis has a daughter who attends Cornell and the Hurricanes also had a prospect — defenceman Justin Krueger, the son of former Swiss national team coach Ralph Krueger — with the Big Red. Francis, then, had a couple of reasons to be on campus.
“I guess he saw me play quite a few times,” Nash says.
And Francis liked what he saw.
After acquiring Nash’s rights, Francis said: "He's got great vision on the ice, a great set of hands. He makes plays you just can't teach."
Nash is confident that when the time comes, he’ll be able to play with the big boys.
“I can definitely play with top-end guys,” Nash says of his progress over his three seasons at Cornell, which is located in Ithaca, N.Y. “I’m a two-way player so I feel I can take what they do best away and then counter-punch that with my offensive ability. I’m bigger, stronger . . . I don’t get pushed around nearly as much and as easy.”
Nash leaves Kamloops on Tuesday, headed for Raleigh, N.C., and the Hurricanes’ summer camp, where he will get a chance to “see their guys and see what they have in store.”
Then, he says, “I’ll probably decide after that . . . if I’ll head there or go back to school.”
It is a rather huge decision.
“A Cornell degree is a pretty powerful thing in today’s work force,” says Nash, who is studying applied economics and management. “Jobs not being all that abundant, it means that much more. It’s not something you just give up easily.”
If he chooses to return to school, though, he’ll have to go it alone. Perhaps the main reason that Nash chose to attend Cornell was the presence of Brendon, a defenceman who signed an NHL deal with the Montreal Canadiens after completing his senior year.
“My whole family has always been close and I’ve always kind of idolized my brother,” says Riley, who is two years younger than Brendon. “He was always a few years ahead of me and watching him play with bigger guys, you just look up to them.
“Finally having that chance to play with him . . . I thought, how could I turn that down? This might be the only time in my life I ever get to play with him. It was a once in a lifetime opportunity.
“It was great for our parents, too. They didn’t have to travel all over North America to watch us play.”
When Riley Nash was traded from the Edmonton Oilers to the Carolina Hurricanes on Saturday, some of the resulting reports made mention of his being related to Columbus Blue Jackets star Rick Nash.
No. They aren’t.
So how did that happen?
Well, it seems that Riley’s entry at Wikipedia claims that he and Rick are cousins.
“I don’t know who threw that out there,” Riley says. “But if that’s in my bloodlines and it’ll help me out, I’ll take it any day of the week.”
— GREGG DRINNAN