Nick Lappin: Developing Devil

After spending more than half of last season (43 games) with the New Jersey Devils you couldn’t blame Nick Lappin if he was supremely disappointed when he was one of the final roster cuts before the NHL season started and began the 2017-18 season in the AHL with the Binghamton Devils. Instead of going to the minors and sulking, Lappin made the most of the opportunity and earned himself a brief recall this past week with New Jersey in need of a winger.

At the time of his recall, Lappin was third on the team in points (18) and is also Binghamton’s leading goal scorer with 12 in 23 games. “It’s a credit to Nick, and something that I think all of the younger guys in our organization have to realize,” explained New Jersey coach John Hynes. “He played lots of games for us last year, came into a competitive camp and played well, and we had to make tough decisions.”

“He’s one of the players that was one of the last cuts to go down to Binghamton and he went in with the right mindset. He’s been their best player, their most productive player and now you see when he comes in here — he played really well last night (in Montreal) and you see what he did tonight (vs. Dallas), he scored.”

New Jersey Devils right wing Nick Lappin
New Jersey Devils right wing Nick Lappin (Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports)

Both of his games were remarkably similar: two shots on goal, 15 shifts/10:02 of ice-time at Montreal, two shots on goal, one goal, 13 shifts/10:11 of ice-time vs. Dallas. He played on one of the two bottom lines with New Jersey (often alongside Brian Boyle and Jimmy Hayes) after playing top-line minutes and all special teams with their AHL affiliate but no matter which Devils team he’s suiting up for, you’re going to get the same effort.

Developing Devil

“Obviously I play a little bit of a different role when I’m up here,” Lappin told The Hockey Writers, “down there I’m on the power play and play a little bit more minutes. Every night I just try to play with speed, make an impact whether that’s scoring or playing physical or getting in on the forecheck. I feel like I’ve been able to do that in these two games here.”

With the team in New Jersey (finally) nearing full-health Lappin was sent back to the AHL after the Dallas win, as they expect Taylor Hall, Kyle Palmieri, and possibly Marcus Johansson to make a return to the lineup this upcoming week.

New York Rangers right wing Mats Zuccarello
Nick Lappin of the New Jersey Devils tries to track down Mats Zuccarello of the New York Rangers. (Danny Wild-USA TODAY Sports)

“I was disappointed when I got sent down before the season, I thought I had a pretty good training camp,” he told THW. “I just use it as motivation, not only to go down there and help that team win and be a leader down there. But also to develop my game personally so that when I do get this chance I’m ready for it and I can try to make an impact when I’m up here.”

Perhaps most importantly, the team secured three out of four points on back-to-back nights without three of their top-six forwards out of the lineup, and a big part of that is Lappin’s acceptance of his current role in the organization.

In the Nick of Time

“Here’s a guy that I think understood that there are only so many guys that can make the team, but we’re all one organization,” Hynes continued. “He certainly deserved the call-up and his identity as a player, you saw it the last two nights, that’s what he’s had in Binghamton, and that’s why he got called up.”

His goal against the Stars gave the Devils some breathing room in the third period, extending their lead from one to two goals. “That one felt good,” Lappin would say with an ear-to-ear grin following the 5-2 win against Dallas. “It felt good to get the W most importantly but to score a goal too, it’s been a while since I’ve had one in this league. That one felt really good.”

On the scoring play, Lappin fired the original shot from the face-off circle and then made his way to the slot where it was between all five opposing players that he found and slipped the loose puck past the goalie. “We were coming off of the bench and Boyler had a good step on a guy, he saw me coming towards the net and tried to hit me there. The goalie made a pretty good play getting his stick out, but I was able to jump on the loose puck in the corner,” he explained.

“I had a little bit of room to kind of curl out and get a shot off; I just followed the puck to the net and it squirted out to me. I was able to get some good wood on it and it found a way to the back of the net.”

Lappin Learning By Doing

Before he made the trek north to Binghamton from Newark the coaching staff gave Lappin a few things they wanted to see from him while he continues his development

“The way the game is played here (in the NHL), everything is fast-paced,” Lappin said, “so when I’m down there (in the AHL) I’m trying to maintain that high-energy, high-pace game; that’s been my main focus. With coach Rick Kowalsky down there I’m just trying to work on playing a faster game.”

“It doesn’t really matter who you play with, you just have to play your same game,” he added. “You develop a little bit of chemistry with certain guys – like I’ve played a lot with Bracken Kearns for most of the time down there and we’ve been doing pretty well together.” Kearns is second on the team with 20 points.

Lappin will be back again with the big club in New Jersey, and barring injury you can bet that this won’t be the last we see of the Brown University grad in the NHL this season as the Devils attempt to make the playoffs for the first time since 2012. Hynes and GM Ray Shero wanted to build a team that was Fast, Attacking, and Supportive – and the 25-year-old from Geneva, Illinois fits that description perfectly.