When Nathan Walker received the call that he had been drafted by the Washington Capitals during the third round of the 2014 NHL Draft June 28, it was time for the party to get started -- even if it was 2 a.m. when the phone rang.
"The roof of the house pretty much blew up," Walker said with a smile.
That's because Walker is in a unique position in his quest to make the Capitals' roster -- a native of Sydney, Australia, he'd be the first-ever NHL player from Down Under, which isn't exactly a hockey hotbed.
A forward, Walker is back for a second go-round at Capitals development camp, where he opened a lot of eyes during the 2013-14 season with his aggressive play, earning him a spot in Washington's training camp and a chance to play with the parent club during the preseason. He was sent to Hershey of the AHL, where he picked up 11 points during 43 games and impressed the staff there with his hustle.
The Capitals traded up to get Walker, making sure that a player they had nurtured would remain in their stead as he developed.
"He's obviously ahead of some of the others we have drafted," Capitals assistant general manager Ross Mahoney said. "His development for us has been speeded up."
Walker said he appreciated the confidence the Capitals organization had in him.
"There are a lot of familiar faces around, which is easy," Walker said. "It's a lot easier coming into an environment where you know a lot of different people than coming into a brand-new one."
At 20, Walker still needs some seasoning before he's ready for the NHL, which likely means he's headed back to Hershey for another campaign.
"Obviously, the main goal is to play and stay in the NHL, but that doesn't happen overnight," he said. "I'm prepared that I'm going to be in Hershey for the next couple of years developing, and we'll just take it from there."
Walker has an advantage against several of the young players at development camp in that he did spend time with Washington's veterans last season during training camp.
"I spent two weeks here, and the amount of stuff I learned was outrageous," he said. "I came out from that camp knowing a lot more and being a lot better as a player, but as an individual as well."
Walker, who said he had become interested in hockey by watching "The Mighty Ducks," started playing in his homeland before taking a leap to gain better competition, moving to the Czech Republic at 13 -- home to Capitals first-round draft pick Jakub Vrana.
"His Czech is good -- it's sometimes funny," Vrana said.
Walker played in the Czech league for five-plus years before moving to the USHL's Youngstown Phantoms in 2013.
"Back home in Australia, you're only on the ice once a week, and that's not going to really help your development get any better," he said. "It was pretty crazy -- a different language, a different culture. It was a little tough at the beginning, but every time I'd get homesick, I'd call my parents, and they'd tell me to stay, because if I left, it'd be something I'd regret."
Now, a couple of steps away from fulfilling his NHL dream and making history, Walker isn't a household name back home just yet, but he said he hoped to change that.
"There were a couple of rugby players who made the front page [the day I got drafted]," he said. "I don't think I made a page -- that's all right."