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Nick Paul: Reasonable Expectations

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An analytical examination of what to expect from Nick Paul as we look toward his NHL career.

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Nick Paul is an Ottawa prospect and lately he has been in the news for a number of good reasons. He signed an Entry Level Contract with the Ottawa Senators and more recently he made Team Canada for the IIHF World Under-20 Ice Hockey Championship. There's much for Senators' fans to be excited about for this mid-round prospect. As he's expected to leave juniors next year, we need to start looking at what is realistic to expect from him. In order to do, so we need to review his body of work.

Days of Nick's Past

Paul was drafted by the Dallas Stars with the 101st pick in 2013. Paul is 19 years old and currently listed as 6' 3" (191 cm) and 221 lbs. He was subsequently traded to Ottawa as part of the Jason Spezza trade. In his draft year with the Brampton Battalion (now moved to North Bay) he scored a total of 28 points in 66 games.

It seems he was more valued for his size than his offensive production.  Since his draft year, Paul produced 46 points in 67 games in 2013-14. This season he's on a 1.26 points-per-game pace, having put up 34 points in 27 games. It sure doesn't hurt that he is playing for one of the better teams in the Ontario Hockey League.

Hockey's Future has Nick Paul ranked as the fourth best Left Wing for the Senators behind Matt Puempel, Alex Gutill, and Shane Prince.  Paul is listed as having a 7.0 in terms of Prospect Talent (second line forward) and a D in terms of Probability of Success (unlikely to reach potential)

While Hockey's Future doesn't have specific scouting on Nick Paul, here is what ESPN scout Corey Pronman had to say on Nick Paul in his World Juniors Team Canada review:

Another native of Mississauga, he could end up being the most important piece the Senators received in the Jason Spezza trade this past summer. He's a big center (6-3, 198 pounds), with skill and above-average hockey IQ who can be effective in all situations, though his value is tilted slightly toward the defensive end. His skating isn't great, but it isn't a glaring hole, either.

Back to Nick's Future

Canada WJC Forwards

Nick Paul is nowhere near the worst player on Hockey Canada's Under-20 team.  He's definitely in the bottom 1/3rd, but with players such as Frederik Gauthier and Lawson Crouse being picked over Michael Dal Colle, Paul is not even in the conversation.

I wrote about Nick Paul back in the summer when he came to the Senators as part of the Jason Spezza trade.  This is what I said about him at the time:

That being said that's all that can really be said about him positively.  As a 17-year-old he had .42 PPG and as an 18-year-old that increased to .68 PPG. Players in the OHL who are not able to dominate and produce at over 1.0 PPG as 17-18 year-olds rarely make it to the NHL. While Paul has been invited to the Sens prospect camp this week, I suspect he will spend two more years in the OHL and maybe will earn a cup of coffee in the AHL.

I still hold this to be true. We can see Paul is one of the oldest players at over 19.79 years old; he's nearly an over-ager. It was not till this year that Paul was able to dominate the league and he is still not even close to dominating the league. Currently Paul is ranked as the 33rd best scorer in the OHL.

When we adjust for era, league, and age of the juniors, we can look at some of his comparables in the CHL. Of the 36,000+ player-seasons in the CHL over the past 23 seasons, Nick Paul is ranked around the 10,000 best junior.  His junior comparables include: Erik Reitz, Olivier Croteau, Alex Noel, Chris Di Ubaldo, Cam Paddock, Daniel Tetrault, Neal Martin, Ben Duffy, Sean Robbertson, and Cody Sylvester. Of these 10 players, they average a total of 6.4 NHL games played.  In fact only two of them played in the NHL with Cam Paddock having played 16 games and Erik Reitz having played 48 games. Neither of these examples are in Paul's favour but it does not mean we should completely write off the prospect.

Wrap up

In order to be in the NHL you usually need to be the best in earlier leagues otherwise you don't likely have the skill and talent to develop in a more difficult league. Paul could be a late bloomer, that's always possible, but a few things make that unlikely. He didn't perform well until this season, his last in junior. In addition, the fact that his Quality of Teammates is so high given the strength of his current team, I have my doubts there's a long NHL career in Paul's future. It seems that he is most likely to be an NHL replacement player at best.

For now it's best to celebrate Paul as one of the better Canadian Under-20 players. Next year he will be in the American Hockey League and we'll be able to evaluate his play in a league with more mature players.

Plus, how can you trust a prospect with two first names!