Nick Paul is still drinking it all in.
The 20-year-old former North Bay Battalion forward just played his 13th NHL game on Tuesday night with the Ottawa Senators as they defeated the Minnesota Wild 3-2 in overtime.
“Obviously the NHL is the best league, you dream as a kid to be here. As a 20-year-old it’s pretty cool. I got my shot [in the NHL] pretty quick so it was pretty cool to get my shot and I wasn’t going to miss it, and when that time came I was going to give it all I had and really make an impression and that’s what happened. So excited to be here,” Paul told BayToday.ca in an interview after a Monday morning practice at the Canadian Tire Centre.
“Definitely, I wouldn’t say a surprise, obviously this is what you work for your whole life, but definitely excited to be here and hopefully keep going,” added Paul who has 2 goals and 1 assists with the Senators.
But Paul’s ascent to the NHL this season hasn’t been easy. The Mississauga product struggled to find his niche with the Binghamton Senators this fall. However, he credits his longtime Battalion mentor for keeping him on the right path - a path that has led him to the NHL.
“Yes it’s huge, I always give him (Stan Butler) praise whenever I do interviews or get asked about it because when I first came into the OHL I was thinking offence and he told me the 200 foot game works the best and when you play defence, offence will come. So when I was struggling in the minors there with the Binghamton Senators I just stuck to defence and playing a strong defensive game and that’s what the coaches like when they said if you keep playing like that good things will come, so that’s what I did,” said Paul who left the AHL team with only six goals and 11 assists in 45 games with the AHL North Division basement dwellers.
He says getting that first NHL goal in only his fourth NHL game back on February 23rd against the Edmonton Oilers really helped.
See story: Nick scores!!!!!
“I finally got my confidence, scored my first goal,” Paul said about his goal mouth scramble tally which gave the Sens a 1-0 lead.
“The numbers don’t show the kind of season I had really. Just defence first kind of really helped me. I came up here, got my shot and they like how I play the game so all the praise goes to Stan for that. At first I didn’t want to go with what he was saying but I knew in the long run it would pay off and it definitely did for sure.”
But Paul’s guidance with North Bay ties doesn’t end with Coach Butler. About four stalls down in the Senators locker room, the longest standing Senator, Chris Neil has been there for Paul. They have played on a line together, and Neil, with more than 960 NHL games under his belt, has been able to relate to Paul, as he too was a young North Bay Major Junior player looking to make his mark.
Both traded stories about North Bay’s fan support and what a great community it was to play junior hockey in.
“That little connection helped us out and we ended up on the same line and he is just a great guy and a great veteran who came in, gave me little tips on routines and how to be a good pro. He’s really helped me out. I know he has been here for quite a while so he knows what he’s talking about so whatever he says, I listen, and he’s been a great help,” said Paul.
Neil has seen a lot of teammates come through the Senators locker room and he says he saw a lot of Nick Paul’s potential during training camp.
“He has a lot of talent and to be able to play with him a little bit in pre-season and some exhibition games I knew this kid was going to be a special player, so obviously for him to get the opportunity now and be able to play with him, it’s been great,” said Neil who played with the North Bay Centennials from 1996 to 1999.
At practice Monday, Paul was the last player to come off the ice. As a player who is still trying to prove himself, Paul knows that a strong work ethic, defence first mentality and attention to detail will be key if he wants to continue to secure his NHL roster spot with the Senators.
“All you can do is work hard. You don’t have any control over anything so every day you have to come to the rink, work your hardest, do your routines and hope for the best,” said Paul.
“I came up here for the first week, didn’t get a game. I was always sniffing real close, the excitement was here, got my nerves down a little bit more being around the guys. Everyone is so good, everyone is so nice, so patience is the key. You don’t know if you are playing tonight or what’s going on so you’ve just got to come to the rink and work hard every day.”
While Nick’s North Bay chapter has closed, he still is watching closely over what is going on in the Gateway City. He talked about his chilly winters and was shocked to hear that it was a green Christmas in North Bay as he recalled a story about his car door locks freezing open during a few chilly winter days in 2015.
Of course he's kept track of how hot his former linemate Michael Amadio has been, as he was impressed to find out Amadio broke the Battalion single season scoring record with his 48th goal of the season on Saturday.
“Yes it’s awesome. Mike Amadio is one of the nicest guys I know. He works really hard and doesn’t say much, doesn’t complain,” said Paul about his former teammate.
“He just does his job, shows up at the rink and does what he needs to do. From the first year he came in the league to now, the progression he has had is absolutely amazing. I knew after last year he was going to be a great player and I saw him in the summer a little bit and I told him this your year and you have to go for it and that’s exactly what he has done, breaking the record. He is a great player, great shot, great vision, great stick and I am really happy for him.”
While the Senators are still on the outside looking in, Paul is hoping to have a memorable end to his first season in the NHL. If the playoffs aren’t in the cards, Paul says he will be making an off-season trip to North Bay for the Battalion Golf Tournament this June.