As with most prospects, they need time to simmer and marinate as they hone their game and prepare themselves for the pace of the NHL. In the case of Ottawa Senators’ power forward Nick Paul, the wait may be over. Paul finished last season on a stellar scoring pace and left looks poised to pounce on a Senators opening day roster spot this fall.
History in the Organization
Paul, 24, was originally drafted by the Dallas Stars in the 4th round of the 2013 Entry Draft. The Mississauga, Ontario-native was a physical specimen in his junior days playing in the OHL with the Brampton/North Bay Battalion. His combination of a lethal wrist shot and the ability to shield the puck down low were his strongest assets. As with most big players, Paul needed to continue improving his skating if he hoped to reach the next level in his career.
While Paul never made an appearance for the Stars, he became a critical piece in the Stars’ acquisition of Jason Spezza from Ottawa in July of 2014. With Spezza serving as the team captain at the time of the trade, there has been an underlying pressure or expectation for Paul to pan out in an impactful way for the Senators.
During his OHL career, Paul garnered enough attention on the ice to attract the eyes of Hockey Canada and represented Canada at the World Junior Championships in 2015. Over 7 games, he scored 3 goals with a plus-six rating and appeared to be projecting as a top-end prospect. (In his early days transitioning to the pro ranks in the AHL, however, Paul’s projection appeared to level out.
In 2015-16 as an AHL rookie, Paul played 45 games and scored 17 points (6 goals and 11 assists). He also spent a test run of 24 games in Ottawa and recorded 2 goals and 3 assists for 5 points, but Paul never seemed to find his way and make enough of an impression to stick around with the big club for very long.
In the next two seasons from 2016-18, Paul played all of 12 NHL games for Ottawa. Under coach Guy Boucher, Paul was given little opportunity to establish himself and it seemed time might have run out for Paul to make his mark and take his game to the next level.
Paul’s Rise in Belleville
This past season was a turnaround. Paul began the year in Belleville in a pivotal season that saw him playing out the final year of his contract. In the first half of the season, Paul found himself transitioning from one line to the next looking for chemistry and he struggled out of the gate. He posted underwhelming numbers for a veteran minor-leaguer, scoring only 7 points in the opening 15 games of the season.
After a recall to the Senators in early November 2018, Paul registered only 2 points over 20 games and was eventually placed on waivers on February 3, 2019. When he wasn’t claimed, Paul returned to Belleville and miraculously found his game. In his first 3 games since being waived Paul scored 3 goals and 5 points. To add, Paul found himself on a line with Senators’ top-end prospects Logan Brown and Drake Batherson and the absence of early-season chemistry immediately became a thing of the past.
Paul and his new linemates would lead a Belleville Senators charge in search of a playoff berth and Paul would dominate. Over an 18-game stretch, Paul torched the AHL for 25 points. During that run, the hulking winger posted 8 multi-point games and rattled off a 7-game point streak. It had been some time since Paul was drafted 101st in 2013, but he was finally reaching the potential and production that many knew he could.
His Time Is Now
Despite Belleville missing out on the playoffs, Paul turned heads with his play and earned an extension with the Senators by signing a one-year, two-way deal in July 2019.
With ongoing player movement in Ottawa, predicting the opening day roster for the 2019-20 season is a flip of the coin at best. This uncertainty, however, is an opportunity for a player like Paul who has slowly rounded his game into form and could be a dark horse going into training camp.
Paul has been through the rigors of the AHL grind and understands the dedication and commitment needed to play the pro game. With the youth movement in full swing in Ottawa, Paul offers a veteran presence and an appreciation for time spent on an NHL roster. With already 56 games of NHL experience, he knows the expectations better than most trying to fight for a job.
Paul has demonstrated he can play with a blend of size and finish and could compliment an Ottawa lineup in a fourth-line role. He has proven that he can play with skilled players in Brown and Batherson and has the physical frame at 6-foot-4, 219 pounds to play a grinding game as well. With most NHL teams generally rolling four lines on a consistent basis, Paul offers an appealing skillset to the Senators lineup.
For Paul, the time is now for him to take the next step and assert himself within the Senators organization. He has been given an extension and a vote of confidence by Pierre Dorion and company to prove his scoring touch in Belleville was more than a one-off. New head coach, DJ Smith, will be looking to rebrand the team and Paul needs to take advantage and show his moxie. Everything looks to be lining up for Paul and opportunity knocks as it may be his last to make the team and stick around for good.