NEW YORK -- The usually buttoned-up Rick Nash was decidedly more frank Thursday morning in the hours before facing his former Columbus team for the first time since being traded to New York in a blockbuster deal two summers ago.
In his most candid comments to date, Nash admitted the split could've been more seamless. The former first overall pick, who spent nine seasons with the franchise, requested a trade out of Columbus prior to the deadline of 2012.
"I think it could've been a bit smoother of, I guess you could call it an exit, but everyone was honest, everyone was in the same boat. You know, it ended up getting a little messy," Nash said after the team's optional morning skate at Madison Square Garden. "But when someone asks to move on for their career, you have to assume it's going to get messy."
Nash said the difficult situation was made easier by a Blue Jackets' fan base that was pretty understanding about his defection.
"What kept me going was the fans stood behind me," Nash said. "They understood my decision, my situation and I honor them the fans that they understand that."
Nash missed the first meeting of the two clubs earlier this season because he was sidelined with a concussion.
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Rookie defenseman Dylan McIlrath will make his NHL debut Thursday night after being recalled by the team Wednesday afternoon. The 21-year-old prospect, a former first-round pick (10th overall, 2010) said that it was a feeling of "pure excitement" when he stepped onto the ice at Madison Square Garden.
"I couldn't help but look around," he said. "It's the dream I've been waiting for since draft day."
McIlrath brings some size and physicality to a defensive corps that is currently without Marc Staal (concussion). With 115 penalty minutes in 24 games down in Hartford, McIlrath also adds an element of needed grit.
"There's no surprise that that's the type of player I am and maybe that's why they brought me up," McIlrath said. "I'm not going to do anything out of the ordinary that's not in my game, and it comes with grit and sandpaper, so hopefully I'm going to do anything I can to help this team win."