The book on Nick Paul is still being written, but the Ottawa Senators forward had a big game against the San Jose Sharks Sunday and is hoping the next chapter is a good one.
The 24-year-old had two goals and a helper as the Senators knocked off the Sharks 5-2, turning the San Jose road trip into a sour 1-2-1 ahead of their matchup with Boston.
“This is what I’ve been working for,” said Paul. “This is what I’ve been doing all summer, what I’ve been picturing so it’s nice to finally go that way and get some confidence.”
To know the story of Nick Paul is to know a story of tenacity amid a siege of near-misses.
Drafted 101st overall by the Dallas Stars in 2013, Paul was swapped to the Sens as part of the trade that sent Jason Spezza to Texas. He was still a junior and Ottawa signed him to a deal and sent him to Binghamton for the 2015-2016 season. He put up 17 points in 45 games but also saw two dozen games with the big club. He scored two goals and had three assists for Ottawa.
Next season, he was back and forth again. Somewhat. 72 games in the AHL. One NHL game. The season after that, same story. 54 games with Belleville. 11 with Ottawa. And, in case the pattern hasn’t been clear, 2018-2019 saw Paul spend 43 games with the Belleville Senators and 20 with the Ottawa Senators.
This season, he has already seen three games with Belleville. He’s got four points, but his time with Ottawa has amounted to six games and four points.
“This year is the make-or-break year,” Paul said this summer. “Am I an NHL player or am I a good AHL player? That’s the way I think of it. I know how to play the professional game now. My consistency, everything I need to work on, I’ve improved on. I’m excited.”
There are factors. Part of the problem was Paul’s dicey relationship with former head coach Guy Boucher, who wasn’t exactly notorious for putting younger players under the spotlight. Under new coach D.J. Smith, it’s plausible Paul sees more possibilities.
“He works, he works in practice, he’s been humbled and been through waivers a bunch of times so it’s hard not to pull for a guy like that,” said Smith. “He’s doing everything he can to stay in the league so certainly he’s been good for us.”
Prior to Smith’s stint, Paul averaged about eight and a half minutes of ice time a game. Against the Sharks Sunday, he skated 14:08 and managed three shots – two were goals. Against the Islanders a game prior, Paul reached almost 18 and a half minutes. And against Detroit on October 23rd, our Mississauga lad popped for two points in 14:32.
If a pattern has been developing these last three games, it’s that giving Nick Paul more ice time pays dividends. He’s a good an option in the bottom six, but will that be enough to stop the recurrent rides to Belleville? More outings like Sunday’s against the Sharks will undoubtedly help his cause.
Photo credit: NHL.com