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Panthers prospect Staios charts his own path, trying to follow his father to the NHL

CORAL SPRINGS, Fla. — Nathan Staios was 10 years old when his father Steve signed his last NHL contract as an unrestricted free agent in 2011, but there was something significantly different when he signed a free agent contract himself with the Florida Panthers this summer.

For Nathan, the contract became his entry into professional hockey after he was undrafted, 31 years after his father was a second-round pick (No. 27) by the St. Louis Blues in the 1991 NHL Draft.

The Panthers signed Staios on July 13 after he earned CHL Defenseman of the Year honors with Hamilton last season.

“Really cool, obviously,” Nathan said. “Yeah, I grew up watching it (free agency coverage) with my dad. He was a free agent a couple of times too. And then every year watching it, it’s a pretty cool feeling to be a part of.”

Staios finished last season with 66 points (15 goals, 51 assists) in 59 games for Hamilton, which played in the Memorial Cup and whose GM was none other than Steve Staios.

The elder Staios, who played 1,001 NHL games with the Boston Bruins, Vancouver Canucks, Atlanta Thrashers, Edmonton Oilers, Calgary Flames and New York Islanders from 1995-2012, acquired his son in a trade with Windsor for five draft picks in August 2019.

Nathan made sure to validate the trade.

“Yeah, it was big,” Nathan said. “Obviously, I’ve had doubters my whole career, but I think I’ve done a good job of proving them wrong. So ever since I was a young kid in minor hockey, and then on my way to junior, and then obviously next year, I’m probably going to do the same thing. I’m obviously a confident kid. People can say what they want, but I’m just gonna play my game.”

Nathan Staios’ game is centered around his offensive skills, a sharp contrast to his more defensive-minded father.

There’s also a big difference in size between the two. Nathan (5-foot-8, 170 pounds) is much smaller than Steve (6-1, 200).

“He grew up in the game and that means a lot,” Gregory Campbell, the Panthers Vice President of Player Personnel & Development said of Nathan. “He’s been around a lot of things, seen a lot of things, has great guidance.

“But as an undersized guy, he’s gotten to the point where he’s a pretty effective player. And I think if you’re going to be a smaller defenseman, that means that you have your high character, strong will to be able to kind of continuing to rise above and be competitive.”

Staios played six games for the Utica Comets of the AHL toward the end of the 2020-21 season, and figures to play for the Panthers’ AHL affiliate in Charlotte this season.

But he doesn’t lack for confidence and won’t concede that just yet.

“Wherever they want me, I’m good,” Staios said. “I’m good anywhere. I mean, I’m gonna work my hardest to make the big team, but a couple years of development in the AHL, I’m totally good with that. And I’m really looking forward to that. as well.”