20. Nick Paul (Reader Rank: 20, Last Year: 19)
Making his fifth straight appearance, Nick Paul has been a fixture on our list since he was acquired in the 2014 Jason Spezza trade. At 6’4 230lbs, he is an imposing presence on the wing, and one of the best forecheckers in the Senators’ system. That said, it’s taken Paul some time to put everything together, and he was the subject of many a question going into the 2018-2019 season.
Paul suited up for 20 games in Ottawa this season, four shy of his career-high set in 2016. Though he only put up 1G and 1A on the stat sheet, Paul’s stint with the big club was a step in the right direction; he was a visibly-improved player. Using his size to win puck battles, paying attention to defensive responsibility in the neutral zone, and his own end, Paul was on the higher-end of the team in terms of possession metrics.
With ex-head coach Guy Boucher not giving the 24 year-old much in the way of playing time, Paul was waived and returned to Belleville on February 4th. Frustrating and perplexing as it may have been, that was when Paul caught fire. Playing on a line with Logan Brown and Drake Batherson, he posted an impressive 28 points in 28 games with the B-Sens following his reassignment.
After struggling to find a role, Paul finally broke out with a spectacular display of production. This, coupled with his solid possession numbers and defensive play, have him primed to become a dependable two-way option in the NHL. With the likes of Batherson and Brown soon to make the big league jump as well, it appears as if Nick Paul is in the best spot of his career.
The stellar play of other young guns, combined with his status as one of the older players, meant Paul was knocked down a peg on this year’s list. The influx of new players like Connor Brown, Tyler Ennis, and Artem Anisimov, as well as the other hungry rookies, may also make winning an NHL roster spot difficult. But Paul has himself on the right trajectory to stake his claim this season.
Turning 25, and in a contract year, the stakes could not be higher for the young forward. If Nick Paul wants to be an Ottawa Senator long-term, he needs to make an impact on the scoreboard, as well as in the analytics department. With the way he played at the end of last season, however, for once that looks like that won’t be a problem.