Nick Paul’s path to the NHL hasn’t been straightforward, but he’s there now, and his role on the Ottawa Senators team for now and the future is becoming more and more clear as the season progresses.
Make Or Break
Heading into the 2019-20 season, Paul’s place in the Sens organization was a question mark in of itself. The Mississauga-native played the vast majority of last season in the American Hockey League for the Belleville Senators and had to claw his way back into lineup contention with the hiring of new head coach DJ Smith.
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Though he is just returning from an ankle injury, Paul’s presence on the Senators’ roster this season has opened up a bevy of opportunities for creative lineup combinations. As the young players continue to progress, his style becomes a more alluring prospect.
Paul is a versatile forward able to play on either the wing or down the middle. His face-off percentage (50.6%) ranks third among Senators players with over 300 draws taken, only behind Chris Tierney and now former Senator Jean Gabriel Pageau.
Faceoffs are only a small aspect of the game, but they’re the kind of details NHL coaches love, and Paul proving himself as a useful faceoff winner is something he can use to his advantage to carve a role for himself in the NHL.
The more of the small aspects of the game he can excel at the better, as it’ll permit him to be used in a more free and creative way by the Senators’ coaching staff.
Size and Skill
Paul’s size is another asset that is useful for the Senators. Standing at 6-foot-3 and 219 pounds, his aggressive and robust style of play fits exactly the kind of team the Sens want, and more importantly, allows him to be an important piece, specifically in combination with more skill and speed.
If Paul can continue to develop his offensive game at the NHL level, there’s no reason he can’t be an incredibly effective complementary player in a top-six role, playing as a modern-day power forward with skill who’s able to generate chances off the cycle and create space for the more dynamic playmakers on the team.
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He’s third on the team in hits with 119, only trailing hitting machines in Brady Tkachuk and Mark Borowiecki. That element of physicality present in the Senators’ lineup permits a more creative combination of lines and an ability to stand up, play a heavier game in more difficult situations, which has been an issue for certain younger teams in the NHL.
Beyond his physical attributes and robust style of play, Paul’s improving skill ceiling is the true mark of the ramped-up development he’s gone through. A heavy shot coupled with his bull-in-a-china-shop-like approach puts him in a special bracket of complementary player.
Pageau Sized Hole
With the deadline having come and gone and the Sens moving a plethora of established assets including Jean-Gabriel Pageau, the opening that creates within the lineup and overall organizational depth chart is good for Paul. An opportunity to continue to develop his game in more difficult situations can only be a good thing.
Without Pageau, Paul suddenly becomes the most reliable faceoff man on the team, an option for the penalty kill and one of the team’s better two-way players. If he continues on this track and keeps adding small and important tools to his game, his place within the Senators organization becomes clearer.
Whether it be as an Alex Tuch-type modern top-six power forward, or in a more physical and defensively responsible shot suppression role a la Marcus Foligno, Paul’s breakout 2019-20 season is akin to found money for Ottawa, as they continue to develop their younger players in hope of turning a sinking ship around.