Wolves forward Nicholas Baptiste revels in being a difference-maker
He wants to be the difference. On many nights, he is the difference. Some players must stand in the spotlight. Some are comfortable with the role, while others are not. Baptiste revels in the role of being one of the main men for Sudbury. It’s not cockiness. It’s not an attitude. It is confidence. Baptiste is bursting with it.
“It’s great to have that pressure. I love it,” the 18-year-old said. “I want to be the guy who steps up in big games. I try to push myself to another level all the time and challenge guys to get the best out of them.”
Baptiste has learned to use his intense energy to drive through checks and also dish out crushing hits, blow by defencemen to create a scoring chance or goal, make nifty tape-to-tape passes and generally disrupt opponents’ game plans. He also feeds off the energy from crowds and engages them after goals by pumping his arms in the air and looking directly at the fans.
It has resulted in a break-out campaign for Baptiste with career highs in goals, assists and points. He is a bona-fide star at the OHL level and made himself into a legitimate National Hockey League prospect for the Buffalo Sabres.
“I have always been that way,” Baptiste said about his playing style and interactions with fans. “I get really amped up and try and get the crowd into it as much as possible. Playing with a lot of energy and being physical is part of my game and crucial to my success. I had to produce goals and points for the team. It’s a tribute to my teammates for my season because they have been unbelievable in getting me the puck. It’s hard not to have success when you have the teammates like I do.”
Baptiste’s progress over his three OHL seasons has impressed hockey scouts.
Baptiste was a highly touted rookie coming out of the Ottawa area and scored eight goals and 27 points in 64 games as a freshman. Last season, Baptiste took a big step forward with 21 goals and 48 points in 66 games. In 2013-14, Baptiste has unleashed his offensive potential with 43 goals and 84 points in 63 games.
“He has taken his game to another level,” North American Central Scouting chief scout Mark Seidel said. “He has shown the ability to finish. He has game-breaking speed and, because of that, it makes it tough for opposing defencemen and goalies to handle. His game is more complete and he is a good NHL candidate.”
Baptiste admits he had maturing to do last season. He had to change his ways to become a better player. It was a make-or-break moment in his hockey career and life. Baptiste not only accepted the fact he had to change. He went out and did what had to be done.
“I was expecting too much last year, and I wasn’t working as hard as I could have been,” Baptiste said. “I put my head down and started working hard. Since I’ve done that and been really focused on being a team guy, it has helped me personally and as a player. I think I’ve developed into a player the guys look up to.”
There is no arguing Baptiste has been one of the best, if not the best, players on the team in the second half. Baptiste earned back-to-back team Player of the Month awards for January and February.
Since January, Baptiste has 23 goals and 39 points in 27 games.
“There is no doubt Nick has been our best forward,” Sudbury president and GM Blaine Smith said. “He continues to be our go-to-guy. A lot of our success hinges on his ability to perform. His determination stands out. He hates to lose and he cares about his team.”