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Can Nathan Bastian Break Through and become a NHL Regular for the 2020-2021 Season?

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Nathan Bastian, a 2016 draftee for the Devils, made another step playing in the AHL last season. This season, Bastian will try to break camp with the Devils. Will he make it?

New York Rangers v New Jersey Devils Photo by Andy Marlin/NHLI via Getty Images

Heading into the 2019-2020 season, Nathan Bastian was an upfront prospect on the rise, looking to establish himself as a viable NHL option. In the 2018-2019 campaign, Bastian performed well in the AHL, recording 18 goals through 58 games, before suiting up for a brief cameo with the Devils, where he recorded 3 goals through 7 games.

Unfortunately for Bastian, the shortened season saw Bastian achieve no opportunities with the Devils, as he spent the entire campaign with the Binghampton Devils, where he recorded 16 goals and 22 assists. His historic stats can be found below.

Style of Play

Unlike the Nikita Gusev’s and Jesper Bratt’s of the Devils roster, Bastian’s style of play is a chest-to-chest, gritty player, who can tap in the occasional goal but is more so expected to play a two-way role. He is a big, physical, and aggressive player, who is looking for a chance to prove himself on the Devils, and establish himself permanently on the bottom-six.

With Kevin Rooney and John Hayden entering free agency, there are opportunities available for spots on the Devils on the bottom-six. However, it will likely not be an easy task.

Main Competition

There is some serious internal competition for a spot on the roster next season. Young forward Nick Merkley may have the inside edge, due to his wonderful Devils debut, and excellent play in the NHL. He also plays a similar style of play as Bastian, with more offensive potential on his side. The Devils could also opt to go skill-based, with players like Jesper Boqvist and Janne Kuokkanen making their NHL debuts last season, and heavily hyped up. In terms of experience, Joey Anderson, Brett Seney and Mike McLeod have substantial NHL experience at this point, and could have the inside edge.

One thing that plays in favor of Bastian is a quote from Tom Fitzgerland, per an NJ.com premium article:

I’m excited. I think our team will be competitive. What does that mean? We’re going to be a team that scratches and claws every game to stay in the pack. We believe Mackenzie Blackwood is going to take a huge step in goal. We believe Jack Hughes is going to take a step. Nico Hischier is going to take another step. Jester Bratt will take a step. Pavel Zacha’s coming. I can’t wait to see where Jesper Boqvist is at. I want to see Nathan Bastian, Joey Anderson, Mike McCleod. They’re all young players that we like.

Noticeably, he is the first mentioned out of him, Anderson and McLeod, and only Boqvist is mentioned ahead of him and independently.

What Bastian can do to Improve His Chances?

Bastian has to have a plan in mind during training camp, and has to perform it well.
1) Establish his role, and own it.
I doubt Bastian has ever went against his role or the type of player he is, but this is important to mention. When Bastian goes to training camp, he needs to prove to Lindsey Ruff and Tom Fitzgerald that he is a quality two-way player, not afraid to put his body on the line, and put emphasis on screening the goalie and defense. Bastian should not try and score magnificent goals, or display puckhandling not seen before - all Bastian should do is show up, offer quality in what he does, and stick to that.

2) Play physical.
The Devils were often criticized for playing soft, and not defending their players as Hughes and Bratt were pounded by larger players. Nathan Bastian can offer that. Bastian has to be that player that reminds the opposing teams that the Devils shouldn’t be bullied, and make his presence known along the boards. He’s a big guy, who needs to play to his size.

Overall though, there are factors that may be outside of Bastian’s control. We don’t know what signings or trades the Devils will make in the offseason, or how Ruff plans to change the Devils system.

Projections

So, what can the Devils expect from Bastian, if he makes the team?

Per Bryan Bader’s NHL projections, he is expected to record around 20 points in the NHL throughout a full season, which I think is about fair. I don’t think Bastian will ever be a top 6 NHL forward, as he doesn’t possess the explosiveness to dominate in the NHL. However, he can crowd the net, and try to stuff some pucks in.

If I had to wager I guess, I’d guess he records between 15-20 points on a Devils team trying to identify their main components for the rebuild.

Closing Thoughts

Do I think Bastian makes the team? Given Fitzgerald’s praise given to him in an interview, I would honestly guess that Bastian surprises during camp, and earns a spot on the team at least to spot. If he can prove his worth at the NHL level is the real question, and only time will tell how that goes.

If Bastian doesn’t break out of camp, I’d guess he’d be one of the first men called up, possibly ahead of Kuokkanen but potentially behind Brett Seney, given his more extensive NHL experience (I have Joey Anderson as more of a lock to break camp).

All that’s guaranteed is that this camp could be fun to watch. Young prospects are exciting! Camp battles are fun! Hopefully these guys can make it so the season is fun as well!

Your Thoughts

Will Bastian make the team? Do you want Bastian to make the team? Does he have a long-term future with the Devils? Let me know in the comments below, and take care.