Caps' Walker will become first Australian to play in NHL
Nathan Walker's professional hockey dreams will become a reality when he makes his NHL debut with the Washington Capitals against the Montreal Canadiens on Saturday.
The 23-year-old forward will become the first Australian to play in the NHL after the Sydney native became the first Australian player drafted in 2014.
Australia prime minister Malcolm Turnbull will even be in attendance at Verizon Center in Washington on an invitation from Caps owner Ted Leonsis.
Walker first started playing hockey when he was six and said he was inspired to pursue a professional career after watching movies, "The Mighty Ducks" and "Mystery, Alaska."
"All my friends back home, the hockey community there, they're all rooting for me," Walker said last August. "Every time I go home, they keep asking me when that first [NHL] game is gonna happen. It's a really close hockey community back home, so it'd be pretty big."
Walker has spent the last four seasons playing for the Hershey Bears and has 34 goals with 45 assists in 205 AHL games. His journey to the AHL was even a long one, playing in the Czech Republic from 2007-13 as well as for his hometown Sydney Ice Dogs in 2010 and 2011 with a stop in Poland before moving to the United States.
He flew to New York City before taking a long bus ride to Ohio to join the Youngstown Phantoms of the USHL. He even had a six-game stint in the ECHL in 2015, playing for the South Carolina Stingrays.
"I just think from the second he got there he had a mission," Anthony Noreen, Walker's coach in Youngstown, told the Capital News Service. "His mission was to play in the NHL and he just wasn't going to be denied."
Walker was a healthy scratch for Thursday's opener in Ottawa but is expected to be in the starting line-up on Saturday.
"He just continues to become a better player," Capitals general manager Brian MacLellan said of Walker last month. "Better positionally, reads the game better, more intelligent on his reads, instead of being a pure energy player."