At the 2022 NHL Trade Deadline, Tampa Bay Lightning General Manager Julien BriseBrois made a bold decision by trading speedy depth forward Mathieu Joseph and a 2024 4th-round pick in exchange for physical forward Nick Paul.
Paul immediately made an impact, tallying five goals and 14 points in the remaining 21 regular season games of the 2021-22 season. He showcased his skills by scoring both goals for the Tampa Bay Lightning in Game seven of their first-round series against the Toronto Maple Leafs, leading to a 2-1 victory. Recognizing his contributions, the Lightning rewarded Paul with a 7-year contract worth an average of $3.15M per season last summer.
During the first 56 games of the past season, Paul had an impressive 17 goals and a respectable 29 points. However, his performance declined in the final stretch, recording only one goal and four points in his last 30 games of the 2022-23 regular season and postseason.
Tampa Bay faced challenges in terms of depth scoring during the tough final several weeks of the 2022-23 regular season, and Paul was part of that problem. Although he spent most of his time on the third line after the return of Anthony Cirelli in early December, it was still a tough finish to the season for a player who had recently received a long-term contract. Before Cirelli’s return (December 3), Paul scored 11 goals and recorded 18 points in 23 games. Between Cirelli’s return and February 25th, he contributed six goals and 11 points in 34 games. After February 25th, his production dropped, managing only four points in 30 games.
Paul’s limited offensive output is not entirely surprising, as he is not primarily an offensive-minded player. However, scoring only one goal in 30 games was disappointing.
Looking ahead to the upcoming season, Paul is expected to maintain his role as a middle-six forward, with his positional versatility providing an asset for Jon Cooper. If Alex Killorn departs in free agency, Paul will likely see increased playing time on the second line, which should positively impact his offensive production.
While it is unlikely that Paul’s production will be as lackluster as it was towards the end of the previous season with potentially increased responsibilities in 2023-24, there are no guarantees that he will match the level of performance he displayed in the first two months of the 2022-23 season.
If Killorn does leave the Tampa Bay Lightning this offseason, there will be added pressure on Nick Paul to contribute offensively, as Killorn had an exceptional offensive season, collecting 64 points of his own. Replacing his lost production will be crucial for Tampa Bay’s aspirations of competing for another Stanley Cup in 2024.