When Nick Baptiste packed his gear and said goodbye to Rochester, he really said goodbye. He has no plans to be back.
It’s Buffalo or bust.
“That’s where I belong,” he said.
The winger’s goal scoring and confidence are back. The Sabres could use both, so the 21-year-old may indeed be ready for a full-time graduation to the NHL.
During his second year in the Sabres’ organization, Baptiste was one of the most potent scorers in the American Hockey League and found the net three times in 14 games with Buffalo. He wants to make the leap to 82 games next season.
“My goal is to make the team,” Baptiste said. “When I was up there, I showed that I could play up there and play with those guys. For me, it’s bringing tons of speed. Obviously, my scoring ability is something that I’ve got to continue to do, bringing energy.
“I’ll have a great opportunity next year to hopefully make that roster.”
Baptiste’s season showed he has the most scoring potential of any prospect in the organization. That shouldn’t be a surprise. Baptiste has been finding the net since he put on skates.
He scored 73 goals in 76 bantam games. He followed that with 28 goals in 32 games as a midget. After a year of seasoning in the Ontario Hockey League, he exploded for 114 goals in his final 218 junior games.
The success slowed during his first year in Rochester. He had 13 goals in 62 games, joining many young players in underestimating how hard it is to excel in the AHL.
Baptiste came ready to play last fall. He was the star of Buffalo’s development camp and prospect challenge. He scored 25 goals in 59 games with the Amerks, tying for 14th in the league, and added his three-goal contribution during two looks with Buffalo.
“I’ve scored pretty much my whole life in the OHL, and obviously last year wasn’t as good of a year for me offensively,” he said. “But from the start of training camp in Buffalo, even development camp, I thought I was finding the back of the net pretty well. That kind of carried into the start of my season in Roch, and obviously when I got called up I got a couple goals up there.
“Just playing with confidence was big. Obviously, played with some great linemates here and in Buffalo. I was just playing with confidence and knowing that I can score at both levels.”
Baptiste has a sniper mentality, and it paid off. He scored on 18.8 percent of his shots in Buffalo and 14.4 percent in Rochester. He led the Sabres in goals per 60 minutes at 1.39, ahead of Evander Kane (1.25) and Jack Eichel (1.19).
His last game with the Sabres was Feb. 19, but he played well enough to earn another look. He finished with five goals and nine points in the Amerks’ last eight games. He totaled 41 points with Rochester and four with Buffalo.
“I thought offensively I was really good this season,” the third-round pick from the 2013 NHL Draft said. “Obviously, positives for me going forward, and hopefully I can continue this into next year.”
Baptiste returned home to Ottawa for his offseason training. He credited last summer’s workouts with helping him get back to the scoring lists. He believes this summer’s program will earn him a permanent spot in the NHL.
“Being good mentally in the summer has been good for me, taking steps back and really evaluating my game,” Baptiste said. “Guys are getting better every day, so it’s just trying to get better every day with my goal in mind of making the Sabres next year.
“I’ve got to take the positives from my year and definitely put them toward the greater goal next year.”