Just by looking at the raw numbers one might think that New Jersey Devils prospect Nathan Bastian didn’t have a great season in his first go-round as a pro hockey player with the Binghamton Devils at the AHL level. But as we all know, numbers alone don’t always tell the whole story. Making the adjustment from junior hockey to the pro game isn’t always easy (unless your name is Connor McDavid), but there are many positives to take from Bastian’s first season following his career in the OHL with the Mississauga Steelheads.
At 6-foot-4, 204 pounds Bastian is a big boy who can create space for himself, and he can also draw penalties against smaller players trying to move him away from the front of the net. “Oh I love scoring goals!,” Bastian told The Hockey Writers following his third Development Camp in New Jersey this past July. He’s also deceptively fast as fans in Binghamton saw in the first game as the Devils’ top affiliate this past season – Bastian scored the first game-winning goal of the Binghamton Devils era when he converted a penalty shot against Bridgeport on October 7.
— American Hockey League (@TheAHL) October 8, 2017
“I think for me, I’m a bigger guy and playing my first year as a pro I learned a lot about what role I need to step into if I want to make the jump (to the NHL),” the 20-year-old from Kitchener, Ontario told us. “It’s cool here having an NHL coach and an NHL GM sitting in front of you and telling you that you fit the mold of what an NHL playoff team needs. You don’t make the NHL playoffs by accident and it’s about trusting what they tell you all week because it obviously works.”
There were some peaks and valleys for Bastian as he adjusted from playing against teenagers to playing against men, but again, stats don’t always tell the story of a player’s development. He took everything in stride, and as a pretty even-keeled guy, he knew that the lessons he was learning off the ice and on it at practice can pay dividends for him as his career continues.
“You don’t realize how good the AHL is until you actually play in the AHL and you don’t realize how good some of the players are until you’re there. It’s a development league and obviously, we would have been better off with a few more wins under our belts,” Bastian who had 18 points (10g-8a) over 68 games admitted. “But the idea is to develop, and personally I felt like I did that. I took away a fairly successful year. But as for the team, the wins weren’t there, but we can only go up from there and that’s something to look forward to.”
Bastian’s Big Goals
Next season his goal is to make the NHL. That should be the goal for any prospect, no matter if the odds are stacked against them. No matter if it doesn’t look like there is an open spot on the roster. Injuries happen, trades happen, and Bastian is priming himself to try and crack the New Jersey lineup once he gets to training camp in September in the Garden State.
“Last year I came in and my goal was to play the pro game and not play an overage year of juniors,” he explained. “This year I think if my goal is anything other than to make the big club then I’d be silly. There’d be no point in even coming to training camp, I would just go straight to Binghamton’s camp. I’m coming in here with a good attitude, and just try to do whatever is needed out of me.”
That process already started in July at the annual Development Camp where more was expected of him in his third summer as a part of the organization since they selected him with their second-round pick (41st overall) at the 2016 NHL Draft. “Coming back for my third time to this Development Camp you’re set in a role as an older guy, a leader. For me they talk about identity, how they want the players to be and we’re all here for a reason – not only for how we play on the ice, but how we are off the ice,” Bastian told THW.
“I was just saying to Eric Weinrich (development coach for New Jersey prospects) that I think this is the best group of guys that we’ve had. I think it’s pretty cool that what they preach, it’s pretty obvious (after three years) that it’s coming to life here.”
Over those three years, the front office has replenished the prospect pipeline and the July camp was easily the most talented group of players since the Ray Shero regime started. The lineup has gotten tougher to crack over the years also, but Bastian is determined to be a difference maker -whether in New Jersey or in Binghamton – in the 2018-19 season.
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.