The dream Nathan Walker had after watching The Mighty Ducks came true this weekend. On Saturday against the Canadiens, the Capitals forward became the first Australian player to appear in a regular season NHL game.
He did more than that: Walker scored in his NHL debut, netting Washington's sixth goal of the night. The goal was originally awarded to Devante Smith-Pelly before it was changed to Walker's.
Walker, 23, moved from Wales to Australia at the age of two and showed athletic prowess at a young age, first in rugby but then ice hockey caught his eye. He was barely a teen by the time he proved so promising a hockey player he decided he had a chance to make it to the NHL.
Seeking to test himself against tougher competition, Walker left Australia at the age of 13 and joined the youth system of Czech club HC Vitkovice Steel. He didn’t speak Czech and neither his coach nor host family spoke any English. He spent his seven years in the Czech Republic learning the language (as well as Slovak and a bit of Russian) and earning a reputation as one of the best NHL prospects in Europe.
The Capitals picked Walker in the third round of the 2014 draft, becoming the first Australian taken in the draft’s history. After four seasons in the AHL, he finally debuted with the big club. He sat out the season opener at Ottawa as a healthy scratch.
“He’s still extremely young and he’s ready,” Capitals goalie Braden Holtby told NHL.com. “You can tell on the ice he’s involved in every shift. He’s one of those players that can add a lot to our roster.”