The Hurricanes came to terms with one of their five restricted free agents today, signing center Riley Nash to a two-year, two-way contract. Nash spent most of the latter half of the season as the Hurricanes third line center, recording four goals & nine points over 32 games. This deal will pay Nash $550,000 in the NHL this year and $600,000 in next year while paying him $150,000 in the AHL in both seasons. Considering that Nash had an $875,000 cap hit on his entry level deal, this is a very good contract for Nash and gives the Hurricaners some breathing room under the cap if is in the NHL next year.
The question is will Nash be a full-time NHL-er next year. His experience with the coaching staff last year gives him an edge over the rest of the pack, but I fully expect him, Elias Lindholm and Jeremy Welsh to be competing for the third and fourth line center spots. This means someone will be left out and making the final decision could be tough. Lindholm provides you the most upside of the three while Nash is not exempt from waivers and Welsh is on a one-way contract.
My thought is that Lindholm will get the third line center spot while one of Nash or Welsh will center the fourth line. The fourth line might seem low for Nash, but using him there gives the Hurricanes an opportunity to roll all four lines, which is something they've struggled to for the last two years. The fourth line might not be a bad fit for Nash either because he played a bottom-six role in Charlotte and won't be too out of place with less ice-time. He also did well enough in sheltered minutes last season to show that he can do this full-time, so I would expect him to get a decent look in training camp.
Nash should be in the NHL next year, but the Hurricanes are going to want to see more out of him if they plan to keep him in their long-term plans. He is a very good skater with strong hockey sense, but there were a lot of games where he was just present and didn't make that big of an impact. His chances to do so might be limited in a bottom-six role, but they might need him to stand out more if he wants to play beyond the bottom-six. He may see increased time on the penalty kill to take the place of Tim Brent, as well.
In the end, the Canes managed to get Nash signed at a very good price and they should know what they have in him by the time this contract runs out.
Review of RIley Nash's season