CORAL SPRINGS — After earning CHL defenseman of the year honors and eventually signing an entry-level contract with the Florida Panthers on Wednesday, undrafted defenseman Nathan Staios feels like he proved doubters wrong.
In August of 2019, the Hamilton Bulldogs and general manager Steve Staios — Nathan’s dad — acquired the 5-foot-10, 179-pound defenseman from the Windsor Spitfires for three second-round picks, a conditional third, and a conditional fifth.
At that point of his career, Staios played 118 career OHL games with 12 goals and 41 assists and, at the time, he heard a lot of people calling the move ‘nepotism.’
“I’ve had doubters my whole career, but I think I’ve done a good job of proving them wrong,” Staios said.
“I’m a confident kid, people can say what they want, but I just need to play my game.”
He did just that during his time in Hamilton, breaking out to the tune of 41 points in 60 games in the 2019-20 season.
There was more success to come the following year.
Staios set career highs in goals (15) and points (66) during the regular season while leading the Bulldogs to an OHL title in the playoffs.
Hamilton fell just short in the CHL’s Memorial Cup, losing 6-3 in the final to the Saint John Sea Dogs.
“Nathan is a winner,” Panthers VP of player personnel & development Gregory Campbell said.
“He played on a really good team in Hamilton, he won the OHL championship and won OHL defenseman of the year and that speaks volumes as to how good of a player he is.”
For Staios, it was a great learning opportunity as well.
“It was a great year,” Staios said. “I have to give credit to my teammates.
“We had a great group there in Hamilton. We were really tight throughout the whole year, we grew as a group, made a far run and won a championship. For me personally, I think I developed really well throughout the year due to my coaches and the support staff around me. I had every opportunity to get better as a player and a person and I think I did that.”
The level of gratitude and respect that he has for those around him was learned from a young age.
After all, his father was not just the general manager of the Hamilton Bulldogs.
Steve Staios had a 16-year NHL career, gaining a reputation as a strong defensive defenseman while putting up 56 goals and 220 points in 1,001 career games.
Nathan was just 10 years old when his dad hung up the skates, but he learned a lot in the time he spent around the locker room with his dad’s teammates and their kids.
“Growing up with those kids and being able to see the pro habits and everything from a really young age has really helped me in my game and off the ice as well,” he said.
“That’s been the biggest thing, seeing the habits and the way the guys carry themselves on and off the ice from a really young age has been really big for me.”
The most important of those habits he learned was to treat those around him with respect.
“On the ice, the coaches take care of everything and I gotta listen to them,” Staios said.
“But off the ice, I have to treat everybody with respect, it does not matter who it is — trainers, management, even the bus drivers — whoever it is, it’s about respect and treating everybody the way you want them to treat yourself.”
While he learned from his dad on the ice too, he is a completely different player.
Nathan plays a much more offensively minded game than the stay-at-home style his father plays.
“He was more of a shutdown guy, but I take some stuff from his game and I work it into mine in the defensive zone,” he said.
“I watch guys like Torey Krug and Josh Morrissey in the offensive zone. More puck possession guys and guys who can make plays and make guys around them better. Those two guys I have modeled my game after, but I’ve taken a lot from my dad’s defensive game and translated it into mine.”
The younger Staios does not have as big of a size advantage as his dad did.
While Steve checked in at six-foot, 200 pounds, Nathan stands at 5-10, 179 pounds — a little undersized for a defenseman.
“As an undersized guy, he has gotten to the point where he is a pretty effective player,” Campbell said.
“If you are going to be a smaller defenseman, it means you are high character and you have a strong will to be able to rise above and be competitive.”
Earlier on in his career, his defensive zone game became an issue and caused teams to pass up on him in the draft.
Two years later, Florida saw something in the 21-year-old blueliner and is now giving him an opportunity.
“It was always a goal of mine to get drafted, but when I didn’t those two years, it was just added motivation for me to improve and get better as a player overall and in my defensive game,” Staios said.
“I think I’ve done a really good job of that this year and I am really honored to be a part of this Panthers organization.”
Campbell still thinks there is room for improvement in Staios’ defensive game, but he sees the blueliner’s willingness to get better.
“He excels in the offensive area of the game, but to play pro, you can’t be a liability on that side of things and it’s something that a lot of young guys have to work on,” Campbell said.
“He’s got excellent guidance from his father who is kind of the opposite defenseman, so when you have the opportunity to have that presence in your life, it’s going to be easier to grow in those areas, but that’s something we have to continue to work with.
“He is open to it. He knows and one of the things that is important is that if you have self-awareness of yourself as a player and if you’re open to being better then usually that’s a good start.”
While he will most likely be starting his professional career in the AHL with the Charlotte Checkers, he certainly is not settling for it.
He is carrying the same confidence he had with him when he proved his doubters wrong in his junior career and is gunning for a spot on the NHL roster.
But, of course, he is also carrying the same gratitude he learned from his father.
“I haven’t had the full discussion yet, but wherever they want me, I’m good,” Staios said.
“I’m going to work my hardest to make the big team, but if I need a couple of years of development in the AHL, I’m totally good with that and I am really looking forward to that as well.”