Top 25 Under 25, #8: Nick Paul
A point-per-game season and an appearance at the World Juniors have Paul all the way up at number eight on our list.
(Editor's note: Due to some editorial issues, this article didn't get posted yesterday. It means today you get a double feature of Top 25 Under 25!)
Nicholas Paul was possibly the most controversial player to not be ranked in last year's Top 25 Under 25. Coming over in the Jason Spezza trade, not much was known about Paul in the capital a year ago. But with Alex Chiasson disappointing, Alex Guptill not amounting to much, and Gabriel Gagne several years from the NHL, Nick Paul is shaping up to have been the centrepiece of that trade.
For most of his career, Nick Paul has not been a standout player. He was drafted into the OHL in his second year of eligibility in the fifth round of the priority draft. His points in his first OHL season were not particularly impressive. Still, the Dallas Stars took him 101st overall, likely because he was already 6'3" and nearly 200 lbs. The following season, his point totals improved, especially in the playoffs when he hit 18 points in 22 games.
However, it was his most recent season that really got people's attention. He put up 66 points in 58 games during the regular season, good enough for second on the Battalion, and also put up 15 points in 15 games in the playoffs. Paul's play to start the season was good enough to play for the Curtis Lazar-led gold medal-winning Team Canada at the World Junior Championships. Paul was tasked with responsible defensive play, and still managed to chip in three goals.
Now context is everything. Paul's 66 points were only 36th in the OHL. He was also in his age-19 season, so he was expected to perform better than most. Still, Ottawa is no stranger to having late-bloomers pan out. Both Mark Stone and Mike Hoffman were late-round picks who blossomed in junior after their draft years and have turned out pretty well in the NHL. The hope is that spending this season in Binghamton will help Paul to improve his game. There aren't a lot of 212-lb, defensively-responsible 20-year-old forwards in the league. It's possible that Paul has been overhyped thus far, but he'll be given every chance to show what he can do.