Wolves’ Baptiste impressing with his versatility

By Ken McKenna
Nick Baptiste - Sudbury Wolves

Photo: In 195 OHL games so far, Sudbury Wolves forward and Buffalo Sabres prospect Nick Baptiste has produced 74 goals and 90 assists for 164 points to go along with 145 penalty minutes (courtesy of Terry Wilson/OHL Images)


Late in the first period of Team Canada’s 6-3 exhibition win over Russia last Thursday night, Canadian forward Nick Baptiste displayed a great burst of speed on the penalty kill to swoop in for a shorthanded chance that was stopped by Russian goaltender Ilya Sorokin. After the whistle, Baptiste tangled with a Russian player along the boards, an encounter that ended with Baptiste receiving a face-wash from his opponent.


While that rush ended unsuccessfully for Baptiste, it was nevertheless a mini-showcase of some of the attributes that he brings to the ice each night. Following the win over Russia, Baptiste provided a succinct rundown of his strengths that aligns with the play described above.


“I think it’s that I can play in every single role,” said Baptiste. “I’m one of those highly skilled guys that can crash and be physical.


“I had some good offensive numbers last year. But I think I’m pretty responsible in my own end, I can kill penalties and stuff like that. So, for me, I think it’s just being all-around, being a guy that can play on your first line or fourth line, and just being kind of versatile.”


The offensive part of his game was very much in evidence with the OHL‘s Sudbury Wolves during the 2013-14 season, with Baptiste nearly doubling his point total from the 2012-13 season. In 65 games for the Wolves, Baptiste scored 45 goals and added 44 assists for 89 points just one season after posting 48 points for that club.


The Ottawa, ON native played in two exhibition games at Hockey Canada’s National Junior Team Summer Development Camp last week, potting one goal along with two assists. Baptiste appeared to make good use of his invitation to the camp, and was appreciative of having the opportunity to take part.


“It’s great, whenever you can have a chance to represent your country – for me, it is the second time I’ve been able to do that – it’s special,” related Baptiste. “Representing your club teams and NHL teams is one thing, but when you can represent your country and everyone in it, it’s quite an honor. I played at the U18 and that was a fun experience winning gold there, but the World Juniors is a huge stage and, come Christmastime, everybody will be watching. So, it is exciting for me to be here.”


In addition to winning gold with Team Canada at the 2013 U18 World Championship, Baptiste also turned in an individual performance at that tournament that solidified his standing as a solid prospect for the 2013 NHL Draft. For obvious reasons, Baptiste speaks fondly of that U18 experience.


“It was great,” beamed Baptiste. “They put the team together in about a week, to finalize it, then it came together so quickly, then to be able to beat the United States in the finals, after preparing for that tournament all year long, was unbelievable. Winning a gold medal on any stage is crazy, and I was so honored to be a part of that team.”


Baptiste finished the U18 tourney with three goals and five assists, a performance that no doubt caught the eye of the Buffalo Sabres, who made the right wing the 69th overall selection at the 2013 draft.


Baptiste recently took part in the Sabres’ prospect camp, a camp that was filled to the brim with good, young talent after that club’s stockpiling of draft picks in recent years. In fact, between Team Canada’s camp and USA Hockey’s National Junior Evaluation Camp, the Sabres totaled nine prospects taking part in the two U20 WJC camps.


While Baptiste may not have concerned himself with the happenings at Team USA’s camp, he was nevertheless very mindful of the ability of some of the players that could one day be his teammates on the Buffalo roster.


“Buffalo’s got a lot of good prospects, and some of those players down there (at the U.S. camp), J.T. Compher, Hudson Fasching, guys like that, and you see some here, like Sam Reinhart, obviously,” said Baptiste. “For us here (at Canada’s camp), it’s nothing about that, but when you can see Buffalo Sabres’ guys doing good things on the national stage, it’s pretty amazing.”


One important observer who seems to admire what Baptiste brings to the table is Team Canada head coach, Benoit Groulx. Groulx was very complimentary of the forward’s play following the win over Russia.


“You know what, we like the intangibles he’s got – speed and skill, and he works hard, competes hard,” said Groulx. “So, I like the way he’s forechecking, the way he goes to the net, he’s got a good shot. He does many good things out there.”


With Team Canada’s camp now completed, Baptiste has a few weeks to enjoy the remaining summer before heading off to training camp. But despite the short layoff, he seems to have his plan in place for the coming season.


“I’m going to go to camp in Buffalo and work my hardest to make that team,” stated Baptiste. “And if not, then go back to Sudbury, be a leader and hope to put up big numbers again and try to bring Sudbury as far we can go in the playoffs.”


Follow Hockey’s Future on Twitter via @HockeysFuture