Friday, December 16, 2016

Nicolas Baptiste serving notice

Published by, 12-15-2016

A month ago forward Nick Baptiste was being sent down to the Rochester Americans after his first NHL stint with the Buffalo Sabres. A 69th-overall pick in the 2013 NHL Draft, Baptiste was entering his second pro season and had played in 12 games for the Sabres scoring his first two NHL goals while averaging 8:45 of ice-time per game with the big club.

Baptiste was sent to Rochester on the morning of November 13 and proceeded to score a pair of goals against the Springfield Falcons that afternoon. He has played in 13 games for the Amerks since being sent down and has lit the lamp for 11 goals total topped off by a hat trick last night against the rival Toronto Marlies. Baptiste actually scored four goals last night, but one of the goals was disallowed for some reason.

From Maple Leafs hotstove (since the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle decided to lay off beat writer Kevin Oklobzija and "staff reports" offer bare-minimum coverage,) "It looked for all the world as though the Amerks had scored a third goal after a terrific shot (by Baptiste) above [Kari] Ramo’s right shoulder. Immediately waived off by the officials, the home team and crowd were infuriated. A review was asked for, but it seemed pointless; it was clear to everyone watching that the puck had crossed the line. Why the goal wasn’t allowed remains a mystery."

Baptiste, however, did cap his night off with an empty-netter for the hatty and in doing so should have really caught the eyes of Sabres GM Tim Murray and head coach Dan Bylsma.

Murray has always known what the 6'1" 205 lb. Ottawa, Ontario native had to offer. That's why the new GM of the Buffalo Sabres didn't waste any time in signing a third-round pick of the former regime to his entry-level contract in May, 2014 while he still had a year left of junior eligibility. Baptiste has the heft to be able to play a rugged game and get into the dirty areas to score goals while he also has an array of shots that allow him to score in different ways from all areas of the ice as his first two NHL goals will attest to.

In only his second NHL game at Vancouver back in October, Baptiste followed his own shot on goal and barreled to the net outmuscling a Canuck to the puck along the goal line. He sent a pass to the crease where Nicolas Deslauriers was in a battle but the puck pin-balled into the net off of a couple of 'Nucks players. Deslauriers was credited with the goal until well after the game when it was determined that the last Sabres player to touch the puck was actually Baptiste. His second NHL goal came off of a quick feed around the face off dot as he wasted no time in snapping the puck low, far-side.

Baptiste is a Murray hybrid in that not only does he have the size to be one of the "heavies" the GM was attracted to when he took the job in Buffalo, but he also has speed. "You see it all over," said Bylsma as he talked about the speed of the NHL and how the recently called-up Baptiste fits in. "You see it from young kids that are bringing it, providing it, and Nick is of that ilk. He has that speed, that power to his game and with the strong preseason that he's had he has a chance to do it here with us."

The Sabres have been playing well as late, even prior to Jack Eichel's return. Beginning with a 2-1 shootout win over the Pittsburgh Penguins, which was four games prior to Eichel coming back, Buffalo is 6-3-2. Rookie William Carrier got his first NHL goal in that Pittsburgh game and although he's been playing very well, with plenty of top-line minutes as of late, he's only managed one assist in his last 10 games.

It's hard to see management messing with a lineup that looks as if it's beginning to gel a bit, but Baptiste is serving notice that he's ready to graduate to the big club.

If his past is any indication, playing a top-six role with highly skilled players around him brings out his skill as well. In junior he was with the Erie Otters featuring the likes of Connor McDavid, Dylan Strome and Alex DeBrincat, all 100 pt. scorers. Baptiste had scored 26 goals and added 27 assists in 41 games after the trade to Erie. He was put in a scoring role this season in Rochester playing alongside the Amerks leading scorers in Cal O'Reilly and Cole Schneider and Baptiste has responded well. Including his latest hot streak Baptiste has 18 points (14g+4a) in 18 games good for third on the team.

Although opportunity may not knock soon, Baptiste is showing he'll be ready for it when it happens. In the mean time, he and Justin Bailey can continue with their kids cooking show which will surely be a hit this holiday season.

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