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Light And Lively Rick Nash, a precocious 18-year-old ticketed for stardom in the NHL, enjoys keeping things loose

A shot at fame awaits him, and while Rick Nash, an 18-year-old
left wing and likely top three pick in Saturday's NHL entry
draft, is not unaware, he appears blissfully unaffected. How
else to explain the fact that Nash, who plays for the London
Knights of the Ontario Hockey League (OHL), can hobnob with NHL
general managers and coaches as easily as he pulls pranks at the
London mall, giggling at shoppers who bend to pick up the
loonies (Canadian one-dollar coins) he and his buddies have
glued to the floor? "You see these coaches and G.M.'s on TV, and
all of a sudden you're sitting down to lunch with them," says
Nash, whose baby face is framed by blond-frosted, spiky hair.
"Pretty intense. Most kids my age are bagging groceries, so I
must be doing something right."

Raised in a middle-class family in Brampton, Ont. (his father,
Jamie, owns a furniture business; his mother, Liz, is a
homemaker), Nash began skating as a toddler, stumbling around a
pond across the street from his house. Rick excelled on Brampton
and Toronto-area youth teams and was taken fourth in the 2000
OHL draft. Says Dale Hunter, the Knights' owner and coach who
was a 19-year NHL veteran, "We knew his skill level--he had two
goals in the first five minutes we saw him [at a prospects
tournament]--but at the end of the game he had an empty-net
breakaway, and he unselfishly passed the puck."

Nash was the OHL rookie of the year in 2000-01 (a team-high 31
goals, plus 35 assists) and had similar numbers (32 goals, 40
assists) this season. Last fall he was ranked second among North
American skaters by the NHL's Central Scouting, behind
defenseman Jay Bouwmeester of the Western Hockey League's
Medicine Hat Tigers. Nash, who is 6'3" and 195 pounds, has a
versatile game; he is a deft puckhandler with a wicked snap shot
who also exhibits finesse around the net. As Nash's body
matures--he has gained 25 pounds over the past two years--the
grind side of his game will improve. "He'll take the body,"
Hunter says. "He'll take a good run at somebody if he sees the
team needs it. Obviously he wants to score, but if I tell him,
'Rick, we need you to play defense,' he'll do it, and he'll go
down and block shots too."

Nash was the youngest member of the Canadian national team that
took the silver medal at the World Junior Championships in
Pardubice, Czech Republic, in January, turning heads while
skating on the third or fourth lines. He added to his resume
when he engineered eighth-seeded London's upset of the Plymouth
Whalers, the league's best regular-season team, in the OHL
playoffs that began in March. In six games against Plymouth,
Nash led his club with six goals and 10 points.

"He really matured in the postseason," says Detroit Red Wings
assistant G.M. Jim Nill. "He became a leader. Everybody knows
his skill level--he has a good feel for the ice, he sees the
goal and the seams so well--but put that together with his
leadership, and that's why he's going to be a top pick."

Nash's growing profile, however, has not changed him. "He's so
humble," says Knights winger Logan Hunter, the coach's nephew
who has shared a billet in London with Nash for two seasons.
"With all the attention he gets, you'd think his head would get
big like some other guys', but he's not like that."

Off the ice Nash spends time playing video games and pool,
bowling, driving his 2002 Monte Carlo and pulling pranks on his
teammates. "Rick does a pretty good impression of our assistant
coach, Jacques Beaulieu, so right at the trade deadline he was
calling kids and telling them they'd been traded," Logan Hunter
says. "Had some of them going pretty good."

Nash, who is probably a couple of years away from being an
impact NHL player, can't wait for the draft in nearby Toronto,
to which he's bringing a contingent of 50 family members and
friends. "You always dream of playing in the NHL, but I didn't
realize it was a possibility until this year," Nash says. "Then
I started thinking, I could do this for a living?"

COLOR PHOTO: CLAUS ANDERSON/BRUCE BENNETT STUDIO LEADING MAN Nash, who is expected to be one of the top three picks in Saturday's draft, was London's top postseason scorer.

A Scout's Take

The best players do things instinctively, as Nash does, but he
also thinks the game better than most other players. I would
take him first; he'll continue to improve because of that hockey
sense.... Gets in good position to receive the puck and makes
things happen when he gets it. Good open-ice speed, but needs to
improve quickness. Skating is adequate, although it's not a
negative..... Plays a finesse game, but he will defend himself;
needs to be more aggressive overall.... If he puts on 25 to 30
pounds, beefs up his lower body, he'll be tough to control in