Every training camp there's a list of players who find themselves on the bubble, perhaps they spent a bit of time in the NHL the year prior, the hopes are to stick around the next year. But it doesn't always turn out that way. Disappointment is to be expected, but it's how a player handles that disappointment and another season in the minor leagues that can really define the type of player you have in your hockey system. Although having just played seven NHL games the year prior, there was no doubt that Nathan Bastian came to main training camp looking for an NHL job. It was not meant to be this season, instead, Bastian spent the entire 2019-20 season playing with the Binghamton Devils
He took every advantage of the opportunity and roles that came his way. At 22-years-old, Bastian is on the younger side of his AHL roster but as his game continued to grow, he took on a greater role of responsibility that lead to a notable season for the right-winger.
1. BRING IT ON
There's a list of players that Binghamton head coach Mark Dennehy mentioned when talking about players improving over the season, no longer flying under the radar. A name atop of his list was Bastian. The 22-year-old endeared himself to the fanbase with his on-ice improvements even more so than he already was. Able to be put in all situations, and make something of those moments, Bastian became simply a part of the group of players that were recognized on a game-in-game-out basis.
"Nate Bastian is a guy that comes to work every day," Dennehy said of Bastian in early March. "He's really gone from a guy last year that people would leave the rink and say, 'geez, you know, 42… what a game' and now it's almost just expected. And he brings it every day."
2. NOW AND THEN
Bastian, who turned 22 in December, may not have surpassed his previous high goal total, but he sure did make substantial improvements this season. Appearing in all 62 games for Binghamton prior to the pause, Bastian had 16 goals, two short of high career high set in the 2018-19 season. But it's how he helped others around him where you see the greatest improvement.
"Nate has been fantastic in front of the net and below the face-off dots," Rob Lippolis, play-by-play man for Binghamton said. "He kills penalties, plants himself in front of the net on the power play and was great in tight quarters. As the Devils went on their run, his scoring increased as well."
Being able to excel in these areas has given Bastian the opportunity to contribute in ways he hasn't since his junior days in the OHL with the Mississauga Steelheads. Apart from providing puck protection, Bastian has taken another step in his career in contributing on his teammate's goals. As he refined the skills in the area's mentioned above by Lippolis, he has been able to rack up assists, providing help on 22 occasions. While 22 assists may not always seem like a big number, consider Bastian's AHL career-high of eight came in his rookie year.
His points added up to 38 points, 14 points greater than his previous career-high.
3. STRONG START, STRONG FINISH
From the get-go of the AHL season, Bastian shot out of the gate, perhaps of signs to come that he was ready to take a further step in his professional career.
Binghamton struggled out the gate with a 3-6-2 record, but Bastian began his season on fire, despite the team record. He began with a four-game point streak, with a goal and four assists, his personal best start to an AHL season.
As the season progressed, Binghamton struggled and Bastian's game quieted. But as we saw the Binghamton season turn around, Bastian did not take a backseat in that process, he was front and center in the resurgence and run up the standings. The AHL squad finished their last 10 games with a 9-1-0-0 record. As the season began to turn, Bastian upped his own personal game to become a key part of the turnaround.
In the final 13 games, before the season was paused, the Kitchener, Ontario native contributed 15 points with six goals and eight assists, in only three of those 13 games Bastian was held without a point. He also scored the first three shorthanded goals of his professional career.
Bastian closed the season with another four-game point streak, this time with three goals and three assists, bookending the year in the same way he opened it.