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All these years later, Nash remains a face of Columbus hockey

Rick Nash has played an important role for the Blue Jackets on the ice.

Recently, he's done the same in the front office.

Today, he is making a difference for the Jackets behind the scenes, where he remains a face for the organization as the team's director of player development. No one knows the culture of who a Blue Jacket is like Nash, the only player whose jersey number has been retired into the rafters at Nationwide Arena.

Hockey had always been the center of Nash's life, and after 15 seasons in the NHL, he decided to retire from being on the ice in 2019. With playing the game at the highest level being over, the question of what's next was on Nash's mind.

"After I retired, I took about six or seven months off and just kind of hung out with the family and traveled a bit," he said. "Then I realized I was just kind of missing something. And that was having a goal, and, you know, striving for something that I've been striving for my whole career, which is the Stanley Cup. So at that point, I knew I wanted to be in hockey. And I was always interested in knowing how teams were built, what was behind it, the cap and all these different things.

"So at that time, I kind of called a few old friends that are general managers around the league and teams that I played for, and some GMs in the Canadian Junior League, and kind of picked their brains. And then I ended up having a really good conversation with (Blue Jackets GM Jarmo Kekalainen). I went in and met with him and heard what he had to say, and then I kind of provided him with what I thought I could bring to the table. That kind of matched, and he and I hit it off from there."

In 2019, Nash rejoined the Blue Jackets organization in a new way. Instead of being on the ice, the franchise's all-time leader in just about every statistical category took on the role of a special assistant to the general manager.

When it comes to Nash's performance in the office, Kekalainen has been impressed.

""The biggest thing for me has been that even with a player of his stature, he has been very willing to learn and work," Kekalainan said. "Obviously we get a wealth of knowledge in his career and what he's been through in his NHL career, but also his international career and all those things. We get a lot of knowledge, and we respect that and we appreciate it, but at the same time, he's been very open-minded as far as learning a different side of hockey now. He is constantly trying to get better every day and wants the Blue Jackets to be better every single day."

In 2021, after two years of working at Kekalainen's side learning the ropes of the front office, Nash became the team's director of player development. In this role, Nash is tasked to supervise the club's development coaches, oversee the progress of prospects throughout the organization and provide feedback to management on player advancement. He also has had the opportunity to work with a number of fellow teammates who also have chosen to call Columbus home, including Chris Clark, Aaron Johnson, Jared Boll and Derek Dorsett.

When heading into his work in the front office, Nash was not sure what to expect.

"I think being a player, you're so worried about the day-to-day stuff, whether it's a practice day, a game day, a travel day, you're just concerned about what you need to do on those days," he said. "And the biggest eye opener once I went on to the management side or the hockey ops side was just how long things take to happen, whether it's signing a guy in free agency or signing a contract extension for a restricted free agent or even making a trade.

"When you play, you just think these things happen in a couple hours. But after seeing it, sometimes it takes a couple of weeks, sometimes it takes a couple of months. So that was the biggest eye opener for me.

"Another thing was the team atmosphere up in the offices. As a player, you don't realize the camaraderie that people have up there, whether it's the PR department, whether it's the media, whether it's the ticket sales, whether it's the sponsor sales. So that's been a really cool thing that I've learned moving up into the offices."

Nash first arrived in Columbus in 2002 as the No. 1 overall pick in the NHL draft and wasted little time establishing himself as the face of the franchise. He scored a goal in his first-ever game in October 2002, tied for the NHL's lead in goals in 2003-04 and was named team captain in 2008 while rewriting the team record book during nine seasons with the Blue Jackets.

Though his career ended with stints in New York and Boston, when the thought of coming back to Ohio appeared, Nash did not hesitate to return to Columbus.

"When I got drafted, I had never been to Columbus, Ohio, I had never even been to the States before," he said. "So, it was kind of interesting showing up here for the first time and just trying to figure it out. But I honestly fell in love with the city, I fell in love with the people, and then obviously I fell in love with the organization and, you know, playing there for 10 years, and then I got traded.

"But I always kept my house in Columbus, and I always knew I would end up back in Ohio. The Jackets just meant too much to me not to try to help bring them to the next level and bring a Stanley Cup not only for the ownership, but for the fans."

Nash truly has a passion for making the Blue Jackets be the best hockey team possible. The organization and city of Columbus has been a big part of his life, and he wants to give back to both as much as he can.

"The Blue Jackets, McConnell family and (team president) Mike Priest have done so much for my family and my career, and retired my number there in Columbus," he said. "I bleed the Union Blue and then what it means to be a Blue Jacket. I love doing all this stuff for the organization, trying to help them get to the next level.

"You know, obviously, there's some responsibility that comes with it. In all sports you have to win, you have to succeed. But, you know, one of the proudest things is just watching my kids go through the minor hockey system now. To think when Doug MacLean first tried to start the minor hockey system, and under the Blue Jackets umbrella in Columbus, there was whatever it was, 100 kids or maybe not even.

"But now seeing the way that the sport has grown in Columbus from the minor hockey standpoint, I honestly take a lot of pride in that and being a small part of that. Obviously, there's tons of people that helped, but I think one of the coolest things is when you see a guy like Sean Kuraly or Jack Roslovic make the NHL and you ask them the player that they watched growing up and they say me.

"First of all, it makes me feel really old. Second of all, that's kind of the coolest thing about being one of the faces of Columbus hockey." 

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