Few prospects have seen their offensive production escalate in the past two seasons as much as Nicholas Baptiste has.
After recording only eight goals and 27 points in his first season with the Sudbury Wolves in 2011-12, Baptiste broke out with 21 goals and 48 points in 2012-13, thanks in large part to a strong second-half surge. That outburst helped him to get drafted by the Buffalo Sabres in the third round of the 2013 NHL Draft (69th overall).
But in 2013-14, he reached new heights.
Baptiste racked up 45 goals and 89 points and was a plus-20 through 65 games. In five playoff games, he picked up a goal and four assists.
“My season last season was definitely my best season thus far,” he said. “I think I’ve really upped my level of intensity and the way I play. I’ve started to believe in myself a little more and in my abilities. I think I’m going to put up big numbers this season so I’m really happy with how I played.”
That confidence helped him to what he feels was his best season yet. In the year-end Ontario Hockey League’s Coaches Poll, he was named the Eastern Conference’s Best Shootout Skater and finished second to Barrie’s Andreas Athanasiou as the best skater in the conference.
I’ve really upped my level of intensity and the way I play. I’ve started to believe in myself a little more and in my abilities - Nicholas Baptiste
He just missed the cut for Team Canada’s World Junior roster in December but he said he gained a lot of confidence from being there.
He’s been invited back to Team Canada’s World Junior camp and will attend next month with Buffalo’s 2014 first-round pick Sam Reinhart. He’s seen what it’s going to take to make the team and feels he has a great chance to do so this year.
“I needed to be more consistent in my own end and I think that this season in Sudbury, I elevated myself in terms of shooting the puck and getting pucks to the net and going to the net hard,” he said. “I think that was part of the reason for why I was so successful with my numbers.”
The 18-year-old right ring has developed a knack for scoring goals, but he’s shown some versatility as well. He’s also capable of throwing the body around and playing a more physical style.
“I feel like I’ve developed my game and I’ve really shown that when Buffalo drafted me that I was a player that maybe went a little later than I thought I might’ve,” he said. “But I wanted to show that I could be a guy that could point produce and play a third-fourth line role as well.”
Right out of the gate, Baptiste showed he has a nose for the net.
At the NHL Prospects Tournament hosted by the Detroit Red Wings in Traverse City, Mich. in September, Baptiste finished second overall in scoring with seven points (4+3) in four games. He carried that momentum into the season and hasn’t stopped yet.
He signed a three-year, entry-level contract with Buffalo in May and hopes to make himself a part of Buffalo’s future plans. During the Blue & White Scrimmage during development camp last week, Baptiste scored in a winning effort for his squad. Then in the 3-on-3 tournament on Friday, his team overcame a last-place finish in the round-robin to win a playoff game.
The camp featured 13 first- and second-round picks from the past five drafts including Reinhart, Zemgus Girgensons, Rasmus Ristolainen, Mark Pysyk, Mikhail Grigorenko, J.T. Compher and Brendan Lemieux.
“When you see a team of prospects like this who are all so good, you think to yourself, ‘I could be on that team.’” he said. “And you really expend yourself to make that team next year.”