His coach intimated that this wasn’t the last we’ll see of Nathan Bastian, pointing out that ‘multiple players’ have been given that same chance and dropped the ball. His All-Star teammate raved at the skill set he brought to the season-long floundering New Jersey Devils. But all that was on Bastian’s mind following his NHL debut was the fact that he could have done more. Could have done more on a play that the Anaheim Ducks scored on, a goal that eventually became the game-winner when the Devils scored late.
“I feel good,” a frowning Bastian told The Hockey Writers after the 3-2 loss. “You get called up and you’re hoping to be a part of a win, so it kinda…it really sucks actually. Especially on that third goal I probably could’ve done a little more to help out there, that’s kind of frustrating. But overall I’m so thankful for the opportunity to play in the NHL here.”
“We play a support system and I should have been a little bit lower. If it goes up to my point guy I can come out and get in the lane. I could’ve tried to get a stick on that (GWG),” he added. The winger played the night before in Binghamton in an AHL game before being summoned up to play an afternoon game with the NHL Devils, their last game before the All-Star break. He was able to text his parents and they were able to drive down from Kitchener, Ontario for their son’s first game in New Jersey.
“Getting to play at the NHL level, I don’t think anyone has bad legs when it’s your first game,” he said with a grin when asked how tired he was. “I was running on about, three hours sleep and I don’t think that affected me at all,” Bastian said with a laugh.
“I thought he was awesome. I think you saw what he brought in training camp a little bit and to see how much he’s progressed since the preseason games and training camp, I think he’s made incredible strides,” Kyle Palmieri told THW when we asked for his thoughts on the Devils’ 2016 second round pick’s debut. “He stepped up and played physical; he was able to plug into the lineup (here) and gave us a little energy. You saw the guy he fought, that’s a tough customer and I think Nate’s a big guy who can hold his own. He was great all night and I think if he continues to do that he’s going to be a great player.”
— MSG Networks (@MSGNetworks) January 19, 2019
Bastian ended up fighting Ducks defender Josh Manson midway through the second period, something that the 21-year-old admitted he hadn’t planned on doing really. “I didn’t plan to (fight) or anything like that,” Bastian said of the bout with a shrug. “It’s a quick way to get into the league.”
Head coach John Hynes heaped a lot of praise on Bastian for the presence he brought to the ice in his Devils debut. “One of the reasons he got recalled is his character. From the first development camp that we had him at you could see that he was a big, gangly kid. He was always extremely competitive and a tough kid,” said Hynes. “He worked his way spending the season in the AHL last year and he came into (this year’s) training camp and had a strong camp. As coaches, we talked about what we liked about him and thought eventually he’s going to play (in the NHL). This kid is going to play because he has those attributes and you saw it today.”
Trailing 2-1 and 3-1 in the third period, Hynes moved Bastian to the top line with Marcus Johansson and Nico Hischier, because he earned the look. “He was playing well, was playing physical, and he was winning his battles. That’s what you need,” Palmieri said of the rookie. “I think it was a game of winning battles along the walls and I thought he did a great job at that all night. He was moving his feet, hopefully, he continues to do that.”
Hynes let it be known, twice, that others had been given similar opportunities through call-ups and failed to make an impact on the team. “I thought he played really well, we’ve tried a lot of different guys (through call-ups) and what you need when you’re trying young players is ‘can they make an impact in the game?’ He made an impact. He brought an element. He’s got good size, he’s a tough kid, has great hockey sense, he’s smart and competitive. I thought what you see from him in his first NHL game was very good. As long as he continues to play well in Binghamton as he has been, there are going to be more opportunities to work his way and get in more games for us (in New Jersey).”
A few minutes after saying it sucked, Bastian was proud of himself for earning a promotion to the top line and even earned some power play time. “(The coaches’ trust) it feels good. I think the kind of game I play, I think everyone says this, I like to be counted on later in games and big moments. Being a trustworthy guy is a pretty big deal and if you can prove that and bring enough to the table then they’ll need to keep you in the lineup every night, and that’s good.”
Nathan Bastian scores for Binghamton. The feed froze for a split second to show him split the defense. pic.twitter.com/XMqCXH1ppg
— LGA585 (formerly LetsGoAmerks) (@LGA585) January 24, 2019
Just the Start
“Here’s a young guy that’s called up for his first game — and we’ve tried multiple players — I think we can all sit in this room and say that Nathan Bastian had an impact on this hockey game and made a statement for himself,” Hynes told reporters during his post-game press conference. “I think everyone in this room would probably say yes. That’s what you need and that’s why he’s a high character guy that has a bright future. It was a great first game for him, he’s worked his way through it and now we’d like to see that continued development. He seems like a guy in our organization – because of his character, skill set, what he brings – that we’re pretty confident he’s going to work his way into more games later this year.”
He was returned to the AHL following the game where he is one point (12g-5a) away from tying his total (10g-8a) from last season with the Binghamton Devils. Last season he had 94 shots on goal in 68 games and was a minus-23, this season he has 105 shots on goal through 47 games and is a plus-11. He’ll be back, likely within a month when the Devils become sellers at the trade deadline with a playoff spot out of reach.
Bastian brought an element that New Jersey hasn’t had much this season aside from maybe Brian Boyle. A net-front presence by someone with size who could also win board battles and keep puck possession. “Overall I felt pretty good, I don’t know how I looked but obviously playing in the AHL is a different level than here,” he admitted. “I think more puck touches and stuff like that will come if I continue to play at this level.”
Dan Rice is in his 9th year of reporting for THW & has covered NJ Devils home games for 15+ years at various websites. He began his journey working for legendary broadcaster/writer Stan Fischler from 2002-04 & completed an internship at the ECHL; he also has been writing features for the NWHL (nwhl.zone) website since 2016.