There’s no doubt Nick Paul possesses all of these traits. And because of this, Paul is the PHWA’s Ottawa chapter nominee for the Masterton Trophy for the 2020-21 NHL season.
It’s been quite a ride for the 26-year old to become a full-time NHL player. Paul has cleared waivers on three occasions, the last being in training camp in September 2019.
In the past, Paul would’ve been extremely disappointed. Normally, it would’ve got him down. However, the Mississauga, ON native embraced meditation before moving on to practice mental positivity to pull him through.
Paul played only three games for Belleville, compiling four points, before being recalled by the parent Senators on October 17, where he’s remained ever since.
“It’s hard, especially when it happened over and over again. You try not to let it affect your mind, but obviously it does sometimes. You have to learn how to be mentally strong and overcome these things – just not let it affect you,” Paul said via Zoom call Thursday. “When I got sent down it was a big step back for me. I had one day where I wasn’t really happy with how it went. I overcame that. I practiced mental positivity. It ended up happening quickly in that season. Putting everything into that camp and getting sent down was real hard. I put my head down, went right back to work, tried to make myself the next callup.”
A 2013 fourth-round Draft selection by the Dallas Stars, Paul was dealt to Ottawa in a multi-player trade along with Alex Chiasson in part for Jason Spezza. It took five campaigns of back and forth between the American League and the Senators prior to making the club as an everyday player.
“I think you have to know it could take you one year to make it into the league. It could take you six. It could take you seven. It could take four. Everyone gets a different shot at a different time. Everyone develops at different paces. For me, I just kept taking my criticism, try to get better. My skating, I tried to get quicker, my release, my poise with puck – I just tried to better certain skills and find what player I could be at the NHL level, and what skills I needed to work on to make that next step. That’s what I did every summer, make my tool bag as big as possible, and really find my niche to try to stick in the NHL.”
Paul certainly found his niche – displaying versatility in playing up and down the lineup. Whether on left wing or at centre, Paul is fitting in seamlessly.
The six-foot-three, 225-pound forward has also become a penalty kill specialist under head coach D.J. Smith.
Last season scored an NHL career-high nine goals and 20 points in 56 games – earning him a two-year contract extension.
This season, Paul has equaled his 20-point total, this time posting a high of 15 assists.
The 2015 Canada World Junior gold medalist credited Belleville head coach Troy Mann and the Senators’ Smith for instilling new-found confidence and making the player he is today.
“He (Belleville HC Troy Mann) came in when I was at my worst mental state. I was very negative with myself, no confidence. And he kind of came in and gave me the confidence I needed. And he really had trust in me, had faith in me, and really played me a lot – kind of taught me the game and taught me how to be successful. Troy Mann coming in, really helped me turn it around. He helped me figure myself – what kind of player I could be. Obviously D.J. (Smith) coming in, he gave me that opportunity. He gave me that trust, and played me, and just having my back. Those two guys have really helped me get to where I am right now,” Paul explained.
Not only has his head coach given him trust, but Smith has also put Paul in a leadership position, by awarding him an ‘A’ after Erik Gudbranson was traded to Nashville at the trade deadline.
“D.J. grabbed me after practice and let me know we’re going to put an ‘A’ on my jersey. With everything that I’ve gone through – going up, down, no complaining, just putting my head down and work, that I’d be a good representation of the ‘A.’ For the young guys that are still going through and want to talk, I’m there. It’s just my hard work, my drive every day, and just push the pace. I was super-excited that it happened. It happens so quick. A couple of years ago I was in the “A” and couldn’t make the NHL. And now the ‘A’ is on my on jersey. I couldn’t be more happy and thrilled.”
For Paul, it came as a complete surprise to receive the Masterton nomination.
“I didn’t think it was on the radar at all. When (Senators Communications Manager Chris Moore) told me yesterday (Wednesday). I was pretty happy. Obviously, it took me a little bit to get here, a lot of uphill battles. I’m here now. It’s just exciting to be nominated in this sport. “
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Like every current Ottawa Senator, Paul is looking already looking ahead after a successful end to this season.
“We’re playing for next season. We know how good of a team we have here. All the pieces are in the room. We don’t want to go out and start trading. We know this last little stretch here showed it. We want to build the confidence now. Like I said before we want to hit the ground running next year. We want to come out hot. We want to start winning games. We want to be the team we are right now. Obviously the start of the season was not what we expected. We’re learning how to win games. We’re more mature out there. We have a 2-1 game, we don’t want to give it up and lose. We just want to learn how to win the right way. We want to learn how to win with each other. We want to build that confidence over the summer so when you’re working out, you’re skating and you’re going to have that confidence.”
And 2021 Masterton Trophy nominee Nick Paul is a key reason for his team’s recent surge.