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Tampa Bay Lightning Net-Front Forward Having Career-Year

Workhorse 29-year-old forward Nick Paul eclipsed a career-high in many stats including goals, assists, and points with the Tampa Bay Lightning this season. The former fourth-round pick was a late bloomer in the NHL. General Manager Julien BriseBois acquired Paul from the Ottawa Senators at the 2022 NHL Trade Deadline in exchange for Mathieu Joseph.

Since his arrival in Tampa Bay, Paul continues to grow his game every season under Head Coach Jon Cooper. Furthermore, his solid play earned Paul a seven-year, $22.05 million contract with the Lightning. What is there to like about Paul’s game, and what factors contributed to his career year?

Nick Paul Cashes-in for Career-Year on Special Teams

The Mississauga native was never known for his creativity on the offensive side of the puck, but an opportunity for Paul on special teams changed everything. With the departure of long-time forward Alex Killorn, a vacant spot as the net-front presence on the top power play unit became available heading into the season. Coach Cooper experimented with a few options in Brandon Hagel and Anthony Cirelli. However, Nick Paul earned the chance on the top power play in the NHL.

Nick Paul took that opportunity and ran with it, as witnessed by his stats notching nine goals and five assists for 14 power play points on the year. Before the 2023-24 season, his four power play goals last season were his career-best. With that, one would expect his 5v5 production to tail off. Yet, Paul reached a career-best 24 points at 5v5 with less ice time than last year. He’s become a more efficient and versatile offensive presence for the Bolts.

Paul’s Transition Into a Versatile Offensive Player

Paul’s offensive versatility can be displayed through cross-referencing hand-tracked microstats by Corey Sznajder at All Three Zones and us here at Last Word. A forward who can play off the rush and on the forecheck is versatile offensively, and that description matches Paul’s game to a tee this season.

Paul has six shots off the rush in our seven most recently tracked games here at Last Word, which places tied fourth amongst Lightning forwards. Furthermore, Paul ranks in the 76th percentile of controlled entries with chance percentage, via All Three Zones. Essentially, Paul is efficient at generating scoring chances off his zone entries with possession. 

Moving to the forecheck, Paul blocks lanes and retrieves pucks effectively. He places second in successful retrieval percentage amongst Tampa Bay forwards (3.75%). In addition, Sznajder ranks Paul in the 65th percentile of forecheck pressures per hour this season. His rush and forecheck play have allowed Paul to be successful offensively at even strength in 2024.

Paul’s Defensive Impact Doesn’t Tail off With Offensive Changes

Not only did Paul develop his offensive game last offseason, but his defensive expertise continues with his increased production. Paul is effective at suppressing the quality of scoring chances in the defensive zone. His 2.34 expected goals against per hour at 5v5 (2.34 xGA/60) rank fourth behind Tyler Motte, Calvin de Haan, and Cirelli.

Additionally, Paul starts 13.76% of his shifts in the defensive zone 5v5 (13.75 dZS%), which ranks third on the roster. In other words, Paul is trusted in defensive situations and generates solid defensive results. Finally, when Paul is on the ice, the Lightning allow expected goals at a rate seven percent better than the league average this season, according to Hockey Viz.

Is Nick Paul a Potential X Factor for Tampa Bay Come Playoff Time?

The net-front presence and two-way centreman could have a massive impact on how far the Lightning go in the 2024 Stanley Cup Playoffs. Tighter games, garbage goals, and increased intensity come with playoff hockey. Tampa Bay can lean on Paul for secondary scoring and solid defensive play come playoff time. For now, let’s appreciate Nick Paul’s career year stats during the regular season.

Advanced percentiles via AllThreeZones and HockeyViz (paid subscription required)

Raw stats via NaturalStatTrick & EvolvingHockey

Lightning tracked stats via Last Word (Kyle Pereira and Jack Pallotta)

Main photo: Daniel Bartel-USA TODAY Sports


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