By Tom Williams
Nathan Walker, the Australian hockey player Youngstown Phantoms head coach Anthony Noreen believes could be one of the best forwards this season in the USHL, will have his training camp interrupted to skate with other professional hopefuls.
Walker, who joined the Phantoms in January after playing six seasons of junior and professional senior hockey in the Czech Republic, has been invited to attend the Washington Capitals’ rookie camp as a free agent.
The camp convenes in mid-September in Arlington, Va. If Walker is not signed by the Capitals, he will be released to return to the Phantoms.
Noreen said Saturday that Walker will return to the Mahoning Valley from Australia next month when the Phantoms begin preparing for their fifth USHL season.
Walker is one of 12 players who are on the Phantoms’ protected list for the 2013-14 season.
In 29 games with the Phantoms, Walker scored seven goals and made 20 assists as Youngstown (37-27-0) overcame a 5-11 start to finish third in the USHL’s Eastern Conference.
He finished +4 in the plus/minus category and had 63 penalty minutes.
Walker did not finish the season. In the Phantoms’ 5-2 victory over Team USA in Ann Arbor, Mich., on April 5, Walker was checked from behind into the boards and suffered a broken bone in his neck.
He was unable to dress for the Phantoms’ playoff series win over the Green Bay Gamblers and loss to the Dubuque Fighting Saints.
Noreen said Walker is been cleared by doctors to resume his hockey career.
A native of Cardiff, Wales, who was raised in Sydney, Australia, Walker, 19, spent six years playing hockey for the HC Vitkovice organization in the Czech Republic. He was the first Australian to play on a professional senior European team.
In 2011, he played for Australia in the 2011 IIHF World Championship Division II tournament.
“He’s a guy who’s been playing with and against men,” said Noreen when Walker first joined the Phantoms. “He brings some veteran experience to our locker room.”
Walker was not drafted during the NHL Draft in June. Because he played in a professional league in Europe, he’s not eligible for an NCAA scholarship.