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Nick Paul: Year in Review

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Another solid year for the defensive stalwart

Montreal Canadiens v Ottawa Senators Photo by André Ringuette/NHLI via Getty Images

Welcome back to the latest iteration of our Year in Review feature, where we re-visit the past season for key members of the Ottawa Senators. Here are the players we’ve profiled previously:

Drake Batherson

Erik Brännström

Connor Brown

Josh Brown

Thomas Chabot

Evgeni Dadonov (whoops, not an Ottawa Senator anymore!)

Alex Formenton

Victor Mete

Josh Norris

Today we turn our attention to Nick Paul, the long-time member of the Sens organization who has risen to play a prominent role in the last two seasons under DJ Smith.

By the Numbers:

Paul suited up for all 56 games for Ottawa in 2021, notching 5 goals and 15 assists for 20 points — a nearly identical season production-wise to the 9 goals and 11 assists in 56 games that he posted in 2019-20. When he was on the ice at 5v5, the Sens managed a 50.8 CF% and a 46.04 xGF%. In other words, Ottawa broke even on the total volume of shots but gave up more chances than they generated. Paul played primarily with Colin White and Evgenii Dadonov at 5v5, though he also saw some time with Chris Tierney, Connor Brown, Josh Norris, and Brady Tkachuk. He was one of Smith’s most trusted players when defending the lead and on the penalty kill, and for good reason. Here’s how Micah McCurdy’s model at hockeyviz.com views his impact as of this writing:

hockeyviz.com

Paul profiles as an impressive defensive stopper who is also a not-insignificant drag on the team’s offense at 5v5. If we chart his time in the NHL, you can see his defensive impact increasing while his offensive impact lessens: last year hockeyviz estimated him to be -4.1% offensively and -4.5% defensively. Paul’s secured his place on the team, and in the league, by making sure there are no chances against when he’s on the ice and he’s quite good at it. The trade-off is that the Sens don’t get much themselves. For his spot on the team, that’s likely all that’s being asked of him.

Story of the Season:

Though no longer young by NHL standards, he turned 26 in March of this year, Paul had not fully established himself as a regular in the league until two seasons ago; not coincidentally when Smith took over behind the bench. If there was ever a prototypical DJ Smith player, Nick Paul is it: he’s a powerful skater who is diligent with his defensive assignments, and he isn’t afraid to finish his check when the opportunity presents itself. Maybe most importantly, he plays with the type of “pace” that the Sens’ coach is constantly preaching.

If the 2019-20 season was Paul’s breakout year, then this past season re-affirmed his place as a mainstay in the organization. As alluded to earlier, Paul may not have taken a step forward offensively but he became an even better version of the defensive presence that he was in the season prior. His sterling defensive resume earned him an invitation to the World Hockey Championships to represent Team Canada where he contributed a rather important goal:

The clip is a perfect encapsulation of exactly the type of player he’s become: the Finns win the face-off but Paul reads the play perfectly and picks off the pass back to the point to start the two-on-one that leads to the goal. Paul also kind of botches the pass to Brown (who to his credit makes a great play to pull the puck out of his skates) , and I’ve definitely seen better executed odd-man rushes, but the puck gets over the goal line at the end of the day. Defensively sublime, offensively a bit rough, but ultimately got the job done.

For all of his efforts, Paul was rewarded by being named an alternate captain after the trade deadline and eventually garnered the Sens’ nomination for the Masterton Trophy. His path to the NHL hasn’t exactly been linear, or easy, but it cannot be said that Paul ever comes up short on effort.

Future Outlook:

When we ran our Top 25 Under 25 feature before the 2019-20 season, Nick Paul finished a lowly 20th and it really was not clear at the time that the centerpiece of the Jason Spezza trade was ever going to amount to much in the NHL. Paul may never have the offensive impact that the Sens were hoping for when they traded for him in 2014 but he’s made himself into a valuable player who is trusted by his coach. Paul’s not young enough to be part of the “core” but he’s got several productive years ahead of him and it’s not hard to imagine him playing an important role on the third or fourth line of a very good team.

That said, his contract expires after this season and as a UFA Paul will likely be looking for a substantial raise on the 1.35M he’s averaged for the two years of his current deal. If Ottawa aren’t willing to pony up, Paul likely won’t have much difficulty finding another team that will pay him through his prime — and that’s something that must feel really good after all the trials and tribulations it’s taken him to get to this point.