The St. Louis Blues’ 2021-22 season represented a major transition for the franchise. No longer a stout defensive team built from the blue line out, they finished second in the NHL in goals scored, with nine forwards recording 20-plus goals. Though the season came to an end in a six-game defeat by the Colorado Avalanche in the second round, there are plenty of highs and lows to reflect on. In this series, we’ll evaluate each player who played 10 or more games with the team (as well as the head coach and general manager), grading their individual performance and looking at their future with the team.
Nathan Walker, 28, was selected 89th overall by the Washington Capitals in the 2014 NHL Entry Draft, becoming the first Australian to be selected; he made his NHL debut on Oct 7, 2019. After six seasons with the Capitals and Edmonton Oilers’ NHL and American Hockey League (AHL) teams, Walker signed a two-year, two-way contract with the St. Louis Blues on July 1, 2019.
Before this season, he appeared in 13 games for the Blues, scoring two goals and three points with a minus-6 rating. Despite a lack of production at the NHL level, he continued to prove his worth in the AHL, scoring 19 goals and 32 points for the San Antonio Rampage during the 2019-20 season and two points over four games during the 2020-21 season with the Utica Comets.
What Went Right: Walker Earned Spot in the NHL
After being recalled due to COVID, Walker made his presence known by scoring his first career hat trick in his first NHL game this season. He also made a name for himself in the AHL by scoring 19 goals and 44 points over 47 games and finally earned himself an extended stay with the Blues. After his historic three-goal night, he scored an additional five goals over his next 29 games and finished the year with eight goals and 12 points in 30 games.
The speedy 5-foot-9 forward kept grinding away all season long to earn playing time. While he deserved a higher place in the lineup, the Blues’ forward depth limited him to a smaller role on the fourth line, averaging only 11:33 of ice time per game during the regular season.
What Went Wrong: Walker’s Role on the Team
As mentioned, Walker had a limited opportunity in the NHL due to the team’s forward depth. But he saw consistent playing time with Tyler Bozak and Oskar Sundqvist at the beginning of the season and Logan Brown and Alexei Toropchenko at the end of it. While his linemates possess the ability to score, their primary objective was to play a shutdown role, resulting in a 46.5% Corsi-for rating.
- First Australian to score a hat trick in the NHL
- 0.9 offensive point shares (13th on team)
Final Grade: B
In a limited role, Walker made the most of his opportunity this season. He isn’t one to take over games and dominate on the ice, but he did his job well. His inability to produce in his four postseason games was disappointing but also understandable, as he only averaged 8:17 of time on ice.
What’s Next for Walker?
He has demonstrated his ability to score in the AHL and will need time and continued development if he wishes to push for one of the few remaining roster spots available on the Blues for 2022-23. He will need to beat out players like Jake Neighbours, Klim Kostin, and Dakota Joshua if he wants to earn the starting position. While he has the talent, it will be an uphill battle for him moving forward in St. Louis.
Mike is a writer for The Hockey Writers and covers the St. Louis Blues since November of 2021. He has a keen love for statistical analysis, prospects, signings, and trades. Follow Mike on Twitter for further Blues or Central division hockey discussions, interview requests, or to provide content info.