Born and raised in Mississauga, Nick Paul spent much of his childhood surrounded by hockey. The left-winger began his career in the OHL, where he stayed for three seasons before being drafted to the AHL’s Binghamton Senators. In 2015, Paul would help Team Canada win Gold in the Junior World Championships in one of the most memorable hockey moments of the decade. While in the AHL, Paul struggled initially, but his work ethic and determination paid off as he progressed through the season, catching the eyes of NHL scouts. He was drafted after that first season to the Dallas Stars, before being traded in a 6-player swap for Jason Spezza and Ludwig Karlsson to the Ottawa Senators. Paul struggled at first, and played in the AHL affiliate Belleville Senators to hone his skills. Soon after, Paul’s work ethic, positive faceoff percentage, and determination landed him a permanent housing letter with the Ottawa Senators, where he hopes to stay.
Who are some of your favourite players to watch as a kid?
I grew up in Toronto and I was friends with Max Domi, so we’d go to games together and I was a big Sundin fan. I just liked the way he played, he was a good scorer and leader. Another person I watched on TV was Jarome Iginla, I just loved the way he played. He had a hard nose, stepped up for the team, and was just a leader. Those are the two guys I grew up watching and were my two players.
You were drafted by the Dallas Stars in 2013, can you describe that experience?
I was drafted in New York City, I had my family there and one of my best friends. We were sitting there and we didn’t really know when my name was going to be called, and then it was called. I almost didn’t hear it, my family stood up before I did. I gave them a hug and then my brother and my mom, and best friend, who has been there for me for everything. He’s the guy I tell everything to and he’s like a second brother, and it was great to have everyone there. Then I went up and shook everyone’s hand and held up the jersey – the whole experience. It was nice just kicking back with them after and just enjoying being there. It was a nice experience. After, it was our first time in New York City, so we kind of just walked around at night and celebrated that way. We didn’t do anything crazy, just walking around and talking and taking it all in.
How did it feel to win Gold at the Junior Hockey Championships in 2015?
It was crazy. It was one of those things I grew up watching, and I never had any Team Canada experience growing up. The GTHL and OHL came to nothing, and then I had a good playoff series and from the series I got a tryout, and I went all the way to making the team. And then I’m playing in the game. The one that hit me the hardest was when we played the US. Every single year since I was 6 we’d have a big party at my friend’s house and we’d go over and watch the game, and it was kind of weird that I was on the TV, and I was the one playing, and for us to do well and win that Gold medal – it was just unbelievable. It was in Toronto and the fans were crazy, which made it even cooler, and it was in a rink that I grew up watching in. To win a Gold medal there and the fans were so loud, and to do that there and have such a close game – wow it was unbelievable. The crowd was absolutely insane.
What were your initial thoughts when you were traded to Ottawa?
I was excited for a new opportunity, and I wasn’t in Dallas very long but obviously getting traded in the Spezza trade had some pressure. They had high expectations for me and they gave me that opportunity so I was just going with open eyes, and wanting to show them that I was ready to be the player they wanted and I am. Obviously, it didn’t happen as quickly as I would have liked but they never gave up on me and they kept giving me chances, and I was just super excited to play.
So you scored your first NHL goal on February 23, 2016, against the Oilers. How did that feel?
It was cool. It was one of those things where you play in your head what you’re going to say or do, and then when it happens you kind of just go blank. I remember the puck sitting there and I tapped it in and then I remember Curtis Lazar was coming towards me and I went to go hug him and he dipped under me to go grab the puck, and I was kind of sitting there for a second not knowing what to do. Wideman came over pretty quick but it was cool. It was just one of those things where you imagine what it’s going to be like and then you actually score and you kind of just go blank. Then the excitement and the adrenaline take over and it was just a really cool feeling.
Lazar grabbed the puck for you to keep and the team was celebrating with you, who are some of the teammates who took you in and really welcomed you?
There were a lot of really good guys. Clarke MacArthur was there, and he was really good to me. Mark Stone was unbelievably nice, he’d have me over for dinners or if I needed a night away from the hotel I’d go sleep at his house. Lazar, when he was there, we were really close. There’s always been a really good core in Ottawa who’ve been really nice. Karlsson, as soon as you came there, he knew everyone’s names right off the bat. Ottawa was very welcoming and very homey, even when I first came up there.
How did it feel when DJ Smith informed you that you had a permanent place here in Ottawa?
It was unreal. I had been going up and down so much over the last five years, sometimes only being up two to three days. So that happening so quick, I really wasn’t expecting it, especially on a big win like that. Pageau scored in overtime like that and me being out there, all excited after the big win, and him pulling that out – I didn’t expect it. And then the camera rolls in and it was kind of all happening at once. It was one of the things I was striving for all summer, to get a housing letter, and to finally stick on the team. For it to happen like that was really amazing.
Have you purchased a house in Ottawa or what are your plans?
Me and my girlfriend are looking at a place here, yeah, we really like Ottawa. She wants to get a job at CHEO, and after hockey I want to stay around. We really like it here. We’re looking at a place right now and have a little discussion in the works. We love Ottawa, I know the winters can be cold but the summers are beautiful and yeah, we absolutely love it here, so we want to make this our full-time home. We’re in Westboro now, but we’re looking over between Algonquin College and Westboro. We have a dog, so Hampton Park is right there and we can walk to everything and we really like the area.
How have you been managing with COVID?
It was tough at first. We’re always on the go, and to be told to stay put and stay in the house is obviously a change, not only for me and my teammates but for absolutely everyone. The world was put on hold. It was definitely a little different, especially because I’m always working out and always active, but we had to stay inside so I did a lot of in-home workouts and really tried to find new things around the house to keep myself busy because it got kind of boring. I watched a lot of Netflix shows, I think I’m going to be watching a lot for a second time coming up.
What are some of your favourite shows?
Oh there’s a ton. Me and my girlfriend just started watching Grey’s Anatomy, which is pretty good, and Joe Exotic, but there are so many I can’t even remember. We went back to old movies too. Selling Sunset we’ve been on lately, yeah a whole bunch, and Mindhunter as well.
Hypothetically, if you were dropped into the middle of a jungle with three teammates, who would they be?
That’s a tough one. I would go Boyle for sure, he’s already living in nature if you watch his instagram. He does kickboxing and he loves hiking and everything so he’s a bit of a survival guy and I think I would benefit, so I would go Boyle. I would also say Tierney, and I’m trying to think of who would survive but I don’t think there’s many of us. Probably Ron Hainsey, and Connor Brown.
What’s one thing you really miss about pre-COVID?
One thing I miss is that it’s always pretty awkward now, you’re always keeping your distance and being aware. If I’m going to a store you don’t want to be too close, and we’re always taking precautions now. It’s a good thing because we’re spreading less germs and everything but I feel like you have to think about everything you do. Whereas before it was always natural, you were flowing in and out of stores, you waved at everyone, nobody was scared. Now it’s a precautionary thing. I found out I don’t have the best hearing because when people talk to me it’s tough. I didn’t realize I relied so much on seeing their mouths to figure out what they were saying, so I keep asking them to repeat themselves. I would say everyone being scared and distancing and that stuff. A lot of people that are older or are used to shaking hands and making deals and just everyday you’re making deals. Now it’s awkward because you go for the handshake but you forget and then you’re like ‘okay do you want an elbow, do you not want an elbow – okay I’m just going to leave,’ so it’s a very awkward greeting.
What role did your family play in your success as a hockey player growing up?
It was huge. My brother was older than me and he played hockey his whole life, and he played Junior A. He was a good player ever since I was small, so ever since I could remember I’d just be at the rink watching him. My dad used to build a rink in the backyard and make us shoot like, 100 pucks per day, and we’d do backhand, forehand, skating drills – it wasn’t a big rink but we put it to a lot of use. Even in hard times, not getting drafted high in the OHL, not going up to the NHL right away and making that, and having a difficult time in the AHL, they’ve always been there to support me. They always help me keep a level head, and to be there for me. They kept me working hard – that’s the biggest thing I take away from them, how hard they work. No matter what the situation is, they give 100%, and that rubbed off on me. With everything I do, I try and go as hard as I can, and hopefully it pays off. It definitely paid off this year when DJ came in and saw how hard I worked and saw that I was willing to do anything the team needed. I think that was one of the qualities that I respect the most of what they passed on to me.
You also have the hardest shot on your team, from the Sens Skills day, how does that feel?
Yeah haha, I always knew I had a hard slapshot but I never knew how fast it went. I was always in the backyard with my dad, taking slap shots, wrist shots, and backhands, and even in the summer he’d just put a plank of wood out there and make sure I took those 100 shots per day. Those really paid off haha, so that was cool.
The team has a lot of young players, and with the next draft picks coming in, what are your thoughts on next season?
I think it’s going to be exciting. We have a lot of really good players coming up, and people are waiting. We’ve got Nilsson, Batherson, Brown, Chlapik, a lot of guys are up and down this year. We have so many prospects and so much talent, there’s going to be a big push for job opportunities. Everybody’s going to be pushing the pace, if you’re fourth or third line, sometimes second, you don’t know if you’re going to be there full time right. There’s alway someone pushing you and working their hardest. I think the competitive level that it’s going to bring is going to make our team so much better, and there are so many options. A bunch of skills coming up and a bunch of hard working players. There are so many rotations, so many options for going through the lineups. It’s going to be exciting, and that’s what the league’s turning into; more speed, more skill. That’s what we have coming to the lineup. We have a lot of prospects and we have really good core players and I’m excited.
What do you like about playing in Ottawa?
I like the whole area. The fans are nice, they always come up to you to talk and they’re super nice. They come out and support. Parliament, obviously, and I like the summer as well. The winters are tough, it’s freezing but it’s nice still. It’s not a big town, if you want to go down and have a nice meal and get in the mix, you can do that. If you want a little more space, like I got a couple of buddies in the Kanata and Stittsville areas and we go out there on their nice little bit of land and just relax, or I can go play some golf. You get the best of both worlds. The people are awesome and yeah, I love Ottawa.
What would you tell a new player, coming onto the team, about Ottawa and playing in the city?
I would say just work hard and make the team better. Ottawa is a great spot. It’s obviously a different experience if you’re stuck at the Brookstreet Hotel and stuck with eating dinner out there. I would say they have to try coming down to have dinners with the guys that live in Westboro or other little spots around the city, and just expanding your view. Don’t just stay in Kanata, enjoy the city a little bit. Come downtown and to Little Italy, there are some good dinner spots there, and the people are nice so don’t be afraid to get out and experience Ottawa.
What are some of your favourite spots in Ottawa?
Me and my girlfriend, we always go to Mati or Evo. I know they’re the same owners but we love it there. There’s Lexington, we go for a little barbeque there. It’s a good spot. Pure Kitchen, we love that as well. Those are the main ones that we eat at and stick to.
What advice do you have for someone who hopes to make it to the NHL?
I would say don’t give up. There will always be people who can see your success and see your potential, and those are the ones who will tell you you’re good enough and take some of that pressure off, and surround yourself with those people. There are so many people who have been told they can’t do something, or will never be something and then they go out and do it. It’s all in your mindset, and if you’re telling yourself, or others are telling you and you believe that you can’t do it, then chances are you’re not going to do it. If you keep a strong mindset and try your hardest and never give up – every single practice go 100%, then it’s going to get you somewhere. Someone, somewhere, will notice the work ethic and the drive, and how you don’t take no for an answer, and it will pay off.
What’s your favourite watch or go-to accessory?
Watch pieces? I don’t really have many, I just buy $100 to $150 watches, just nice, clean, simple watches. I know some guys have Rolexes, and things like that, but I try not to be too flashy. If I were to get a decent watch, I’d probably get a Rolex, or a Piguet. Piguets are nice, some of the guys have those.