New Jersey Devils Go To Hell and Back with Nathan Bastian

New Jersey Devils right wing Nathan Bastian (14): Dennis Schneidler-USA TODAY Sports
New Jersey Devils right wing Nathan Bastian (14): Dennis Schneidler-USA TODAY Sports /

Friday, November 25 is the one-year anniversary of the New Jersey Devils claiming Nathan Bastian – a player they drafted in 2016 and lost to Seattle in the 2021 Expansion Draft – on waivers from the Kraken.

“We were sad to see him leave, but that’s sometimes how this business goes. We were definitely pumped when we knew he was coming back,” Devils captain Nico Hischier told Pucks and Pitchforks recently. “He’s playing unbelievable for us, and when we’re winning – that line that he is on is a big part of that. They’re playing the right way, setting us up (for success), and playing the way they can. That sets us up, and that’s why it’s always a full team effort.”

Hischier cracked a smile and laughed a bit when we asked if he was glad he only has to play against Bastian in practice and not in games. “Really frustrating (to play against),” the captain said. “Their line is fast, strong, and they’re playing simple hockey. 100% glad that he’s on our side.”

Bastian has been an NHL regular since the 2020-21 season when he appeared in 41 games. Last season between Seattle and New Jersey, he played in 72 games setting career-highs in goals (12) and points (18). Granted, that’s not really what he’s here for, but it doesn’t hurt his cause when he can chip in the odd goal or two in a big moment.

I recently spoke with the 24-year-old Bastian, reminding him that the anniversary of his return to New Jersey was coming up, and asked if it’s something he thinks about. We all know a lot can happen in the span of a year. Some things do fall through the cracks, but I think he was very genuine and real in his answers to my questions about the situation.

“I think about it more than you would probably think. I’m so grateful to be back (in New Jersey). To be on a team where you are respected and use you (on a nightly basis). Now I’m in a spot where I just have to do everything in my power to get better,” said Bastian.

He went on to mention how he understands the business side of things and had no ill will or bad things to say about the decision to expose him in the expansion draft. I got the impression that when he saw the other names that New Jersey wasn’t protecting, there was no way he thought he would be claimed by the Kraken ahead of them.

New Jersey Devils
New Jersey Devils forward Nathan Bastian (14): Stephen Brashear-USA TODAY Sports /

“Honestly, I was really disappointed. I feel like I’m kinda lucky. I’ve always had a decent head on my shoulders, and I’m realistic about things,” he explained. “When I saw the names and the number of guys they could protect, there wasn’t a good chance (they’d protect me). Not so much Tom (Fitzgerald) leaving me unprotected; that’s part of the gig. There were mixed emotions when I was the guy that Seattle selected.”

From there, his life became a bit of a whirlwind. He had to relocate to the other side of the continent, get to know an entirely new coaching staff and teammates, and be separated from the group that he had been grinding alongside for years. It all hit him at the same time, almost as the reality of the situation started to set in during that offseason.

“It’s tough. You move everything you have, and your closest family is on the other side of the country. It’s not an easy move, you go over there, and little things turn into big things,” Bastian told us. “The time zone is different. You’re adjusting to a whole new group of teammates, it rained every single day. And then all of a sudden, I wasn’t playing, so there were all of these hurdles for me to figure out how to jump over. Somehow, this worked out the way it did – and I am so thankful that it did.”

As luck would have it, before the Devils brought Bastian back to their team, he returned to the Rock with the Seattle Kraken on Oct. 19, 2021, and according to him, that was one of the weirdest parts of this whole experience that he endured.

“It was tough coming back here to play. It’s not like I’m an older guy who has been here for many, many years. But I have been a part of this organization for a while, and a lot of these guys are like my best buddies,” said Bastian. “So coming back and playing against them  – part of you wished you were on the other side – when you’re playing against them,” he said through a laugh. “So I feel really fortunate that things worked out the way they did.”

I also asked one of the newer Devils, Brendan Smith, about Bastian. He’s a player who had played against no. 14 in the past and maybe even been in a collision or two with him. So I was curious to see what Smith’s early impressions were as his teammate through training camp and the first 20 games of the current season.

“I’m a huge fan of Nate. I think off the ice, he is a vocal guy and great in our room, a team-first guy. These things I love,” Smith said with a smile. “They make me want to be a part of hanging out with a guy like him. On the ice, he does the right things – he gets in the corners, he hits, and he’s a big body. He’s got great skills for a big man and skates well.”

New Jersey Devils
New Jersey Devils right wing Nathan Bastian (14): Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports /

“Nate kills penalties; he plays on our power play. You see that BMW line – if that’s what we’re calling it – they shut down big lines, and they create big goals for us. I’m a big fan of his, and I think we’re lucky to have him.”

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Bastian, as he mentioned, feels fortunate that things worked out the way he wanted them to. As we all know, that isn’t always the case in life. Things don’t always go the way we think or plan. So as the Devils got off to a white-hot start this season and tied a franchise record with a 13-game winning streak, one of them may be enjoying things a bit more than the others because he could have easily been somewhere else for this.

“I’m really excited. We have a passionate fan base, our organization – and management gets it – when you have these high picks, everyone wants it (the success) to be rushed, and it doesn’t work that way,” Bastian told us. “You’ve seen the excitement of being able to draft Nico and Jack (Hughes), but it doesn’t happen in year one, year two, or even in year three. It gets to a point where those guys are ready to turn the corner, they lead by example, and they have done that now.”

“You talk about how far this team can go – I think for some of these guys, the sky is the limit, and collectively, we are just scratching the surface.”

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Well, if a long winning streak like they were just on is just scratching the surface, then Devils fans will have plenty to cheer about in the near future. And likely, Nate Bastian will be a big part of that.