Nathan Walker set to become first Australian-raised player in the NHL

Living the dream: Nathan Walker will debut in the NHL for the Washington Capitals, completing an incredible journey to break through as the first Australian-raised ice hockey player to reach the competition. Picture: Washington Capitals

Living the dream: Nathan Walker will debut in the NHL for the Washington Capitals, completing an incredible journey to break through as the first Australian-raised ice hockey player to reach the competition. Picture: Washington Capitals

Australian ice hockey will have its first NHL player when Nathan Walker steps out onto the ice for the Washington Capitals against the Montreal Canadiens at Capital One Arena in Washington at 10am AEST.

Born in Wales but moving to Australia when he was two, Walker will be the first Australian-raised player to debut in an NHL game.

"It's definitely an exciting time and I'm really looking forward to getting out there and getting a game in,” Walker said.

"It's definitely going to be exciting. I just want to take it all in and just do what I need to do in order for the team to be successful.”

Walker grew up in the Sutherland Shire and was a budding rugby league star and junior with the Cronulla Sharks.

The hockey dream started at the now-closed Blacktown Ice Rink when a 6-year-old Nathan took up the game, following in the footsteps of his older brother Ryan.

A huge talent from an early age, Walker wanted more and begged his parents to allow him to move to the Czech Republic at 13 to chase his hockey dream with HC Vitkovice Steel.

The move to the Czech Republic was instrumental in his career development.

"I think it definitely made me more independent, especially at an earlier age, just considering I went there a little earlier,” he said.

"At the age of 13, I was cooking for myself and stuff like that. And I was on the ice twice a day every day so it definitely gave me the chance and opportunity to work on my skills.”

Walker moved to the US in 2012 and appeared on the Capitals radar. In 2014, he was drafted into the NHL with Capitals trading for a higher pick in the third round in order to snatch up Walker.

He is the first Australian drafted into the NHL.

After plying his trade with the Hershey Bears in the American Hockey League – the second tier of professional American hockey - for the past three years, Walker was hugely impressive through training camp and forced his way into the NHL side.

It's a journey that has covered a lot of ground and Walker has blazed a trail for future Australian ice hockey players but has also been hard for his family. 

Walker said it was a "special moment” and that he was thrilled to be able to play in front of his parents Ceri and Wayne, brother Ryan and fiancee Tayla.

After all the sacrifice and hard work it has taken just to get Walker to the NHL, he has some advice for those looking to follow in his footsteps. 

"Follow your dreams,” he said. "You need to set goals for yourself and in order to meet them, you need to pursue those dreams you want to follow.”

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