No. 10: Nick Paul (Reader rank: 8, Last year: 8)
We’re into the Top 10 of our Top 25 Under 25, where there will be some familiar faces. Starting off the list is power forward Nick Paul, who drops two spots, not necessarily because he’s lost ground, but rather two players jumped past him into our Top 10.
Paul spent most of his career as a late bloomer. He didn’t even get drafted into the OHL until his second year of eligibility. He was a 4th-round pick in his draft eligible year (2013), because players over 6’0” who already weigh 200 lbs can often find a team that’s interested. 2013-14 brought improvement, but it wasn’t until 2014-15 that his strengths really showed. He scored 66 points in 58 games, and then scored another 15 points in 15 playoff games. He also got to play for Team Canada at the World Junior Hockey Championships. Ottawa Senators fans were (understandably) excited to see what he could do after turning pro.
Last season started very disappointingly for the young forward. He struggled adjusting to the pro game, being an occasional healthy scratch in Binghamton. He didn’t score his first AHL goal until December 20th, nearly two weeks after Matt O’Connor got his long-awaited first pro win. He did wind up with 17 points in 45 AHL game, but it seemed to take him a long time to adjust.
Late in the season, he was called up to the big club. I hesitate to say “earned a call up”, because he was far from the best remaining forward in Binghamton. But in the big leagues, he got his first assist in his second game, and his first goal in his fourth game. The offence was coming quicker for him. He ended up staying with the Sens for the remaining 24 games, notching a total of five points. Most importantly, he didn’t look out of place. His ice time steadily increased, surpassing 15 minutes in the second-last game. He used his size effectively to shield the puck and win battles along the boards. It looked like the confidence he wasn’t able to find in the AHL had suddenly shown up in the NHL.
Debate looms over what to expect of Paul this year. Some say he’s shown he’s a capable NHL fourth-liner, with a skill set that could actually be useful on the fourth line, and he should be allowed to develop with the big club. Others say that now that he’s found confidence, he should return to the AHL to play big minutes and continue his upward trajectory. Development is far from an exact science, so either, both, or neither could be right. What I do know is this: if we’d been making a Top 25 Under 25 list eight months ago, Paul’s stock probably would’ve been a lot lower. He’s managed to work his way back up in our awareness, and hopefully another season will see him blossom in the pro game.