Nick Paul helped drive North Bay to greatness this past season (Aaron Bell/OHL Images)
He helped North Bay get to the Ontario League final and then put in an impressive showing at Canada's world junior camp. What's next for the prospect who was traded for Jason Spezza?
There was a lot of buzz on Tuesday afternoon surrounding the shootout goals scored by Jordan Subban and Josh Ho-Sang at the BioSteel Sports camp in Toronto, and deservedly so. But one of the other finalists in the informal skills competition was center Nick Paul and he had some pretty nasty moves as well – the difference was, Paul did it at a hulking 6-foot-3 and 198 pounds. Check out all the highlights below, starting at the 1:30 mark:
Pretty impressive all-around, but what about Paul's attempt where he holds the puck on his blade one-handed in the air and wields his stick like a Simon Belmont whip?
"I honestly just made it up on the spot," Paul said. "I had no more tricks in my bag. I thought I'd turn it up a notch and I almost had it – coulda been dirty, but I just missed."
Nevertheless, the effort was impressive and not something you would usually associate with Paul's North Bay Battalion. The Students of Stan Butler are known for crushing defense and the strategy led the team all the way to the Ontario League final this past season, where they eventually fell to the juggernaut Guelph Storm. For Paul, the tutelage has been welcome for his development.
"Playing in Stan's system, you don't get a lot of points, but at the same time you're a well-rounded player," he said. "You play both ends of the ice and in the end that's what teams are looking for. You play defense first and it's a great system."
And while it's harder to stand out on a team-first squad, Paul did catch the eye of Hockey Canada and made the most of his invite to this summer's world junior camp. He was a bull in exhibition wins against the Czech Republic and Russia, scoring in his first game and garnering an assist in the other.
"I knew I was flying under the radar, that I was an underdog," he said. "So I wanted to show everyone how hard I worked over the summer and that I could contribute. I think it went well."
As a fourth-round pick of the Dallas Stars in 2013, Paul was far from a household name outside of North Bay, but that all changed on July 1, when he was part of the deal that sent Jason Spezza to the Lone Star State. For a kid that grew up in the same Toronto suburb as the erstwhile Senators star, it was pretty crazy for Paul to hear his name attached to the veteran center.
"It was huge…I don't know how to explain it," he said. "It felt so amazing. At first you're in shock when you take it in: whoa, that's Jason Spezza. But after that it's about getting to work and proving it was a good trade."
Now Ottawa fans can look forward to a future with Paul patrolling the middle using his big body to work the corners and his vision to create offense. He still wants to work on his speed and agility, but if his performance at the BioSteel shootout is any indication, he's definitely got some finesse skills already.