Nash the middle man in 'young guns' line

Posted by Chip Alexander on April 15, 2014 

Hands up for everyone who predicted the line of Jeff Skinner, Riley Nash and Elias Lindholm would be the Canes' most productive late in the season.

No one saw that coming.

But Canes coach Kirk Muller gave it a try and the three clicked pretty well -- Nash the "old man" at 24. Not that it was hard, Nash said Tuesday.

"We worked well together and each of us fed off each other," Nash said. "For me, being in the middle, I was just trying to be consistent … and just let those two guys play because they're incredibly skilled. It was just me trying to keep things going in the right direction and let them do what they do best."

Skinner scored seven goals in the last 11 games to finish with a career-high 33, getting two Sunday against the Philadelphia Flyers. Lindholm ended his rookie season with a flourish, scoring a pair of goals at Pittsburgh on April 1 and adding another in a 2-1 victory at Detroit last Friday while providing some solid, at times physical two-way play.

"I would say that was more of my game, more of an all-around player," Lindholm said. "Hit bodies, score some goals, try to make some plays out there."

Nash had two goals and four assists in his last 12 games, scoring the game-winner March 22 in a 3-2 victory at Winnipeg. He set up Skinner for his first goal Sunday against the Flyers with a sharp cross-ice pass.

Of Lindholm, Nash said, "He's going to be a world-class player in no time. He's only 19 years old and you could see in the last month he's already starting to take over games. He's getting that mindset where he knows he can do it. He has a confidence and that aura about him that he's ready to take that next step."

And Skinner?

"Skins is in a league of his own out there," Nash said. "In my opinion he's one of the best goal-scorers in this league. Me and Lindy were talking about him the other day, just give him the puck somewhere in that shooting area and he'll find a way to put it in. I wish I had that."

The Canes went into the season believing they needed a reliable third-line center after Eric and Jordan Staal, and that kind of talk continued up to the trade deadline. Nash was given the opportunity and at times centered the fourth line as Manny Malhotra moved up to the third line.

Malhotra pushed Nash. He also helped him improve on faceoffs. And Nash responded just as Muller hoped he would, accepting the competitive challenge and getting better.

Nash's improvement over the course of the season, and the play of his line late, has given management something to think about looking ahead to next season.

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