Author: Norm Sanders
ST. LOUIS --- Like a new toy with batteries that never run low, Tyson Nash burst onto the NHL scene last season and managed to tick off nearly every team the St. Louis Blues played.
Whether he was delivering checks, one-liners or goading the opposition into penalties, Nash had his nose in the middle of something.
"There's still a lot of talk going on out there," Nash said with a grin, the same one that bedevils opponents. "Maybe not as much, but I still get the feeling that guys want to kill me --- and that's my job."
Nash, 25, earned an NHL job by sacrificing his body on every shift. Now that he's here, the winger has added offensive skills to his repertoire.
In 28 games, the 25-year-old Edmonton native has five goals and nine points. He had only four goals and 13 points in 66 games a year ago.
"He's getting more ice time now, and he's being rewarded for his play last year," Blues winger Scott Young said. "He still plays really hard and shows up every night. That's been his trademark, but now he's being put out there in important situations --- killing penalties and getting lots of ice time."
Nash enjoys the responsibilities of penalty-killing.
"It's been a lot of fun, and Craig Conroy has definitely helped me out in that department," Nash said. "The extra ice time has probably been the biggest factor. Last year, when I played six or seven minutes a game, it was tough to feel good or get any kind of momentum going."
Nash averages just under 12 minutes a game. A talk with Blues coach Joel Quenneville before the season began opened Nash's eyes to the possibilities of improving his skills.
"They told me instead of always looking for the big hit when you do get the puck, try to make a play with it," he said. "Take it to the net instead of just running around trying to hit everybody."
Not that he shies away from hitting --- or yapping at opponents, a few of which he continues to battle.
"Steve Yzerman and I didn't see eye-to-eye all year, so he was a fun guy to play against," said Nash, who a year ago termed Yzerman's punches as "throwing pillows at me."
"San Jose had a few guys like (Jeff) Norton and Owen Nolan. You try to do your job, but that's a part of my job I definitely enjoy."
Nash drew less penalties toward the end of last season and was watched closely by referees.
"You never want to embarrass a referee by diving, or making it so obvious that you're trying to get them to make a bad call," he said. "At the same time, you try to work hard and keep your legs moving. That's how you create penalties.
"My goal is to become a more complete player, someone that's put out there in key situations."
Quenneville said Nash is among the team's most consistent performers. The winger also has scaled back his penalty minutes after leading the team with 150 last season. He ranks third behind Reed Low (99) and Chris Pronger (53).
"His overall game has improved immensely, and I think his ice time speaks about what he's given us," said Quenneville, who believes that energy helped Nash land a spot on the penalty-kill unit. "There's a thought process there and some patience to his game. That's been a big plus for us, knowing he can coming in and kill penalties. He's not just one-dimensional."
Nash is popular with Blues fans, some of whom have donned his No. 9 sweater. He writes local restaurant reviews on the Blues' Web site and rarely passes up a chance to participate in the team's charity functions.
"It's hard to explain what kind of feeling it is when you see someone up in the stands wearing your jersey," he said. "It's a big thrill, and I'm glad to be part of a winning team and a great organization."
Some have compared Nash to Detroit's Pat Verbeek, who is referred to as the "Little Ball of Hate." But Quenneville thinks Nash may be something of a hybrid.
"He's tough to compare (people) to. I don't have a guy; I was asked that this summer, and I didn't have an answer."