Nathan Beaulieu – A Revelation On The Back End
by Gareth Davies
A first round pick in any hockey market in the NHL faces intense scrutiny from fans and the media. However, insert Montreal as the hockey market and the scrutiny increases tenfold. Expectation is increasingly high, even within the organisation, which often is substantially empowering on players who wear the Bleu-Blanc-Rouge jerseys.
This was shown with the 18th overall pick in 2009, Louis Leblanc, who was moved to the Anaheim Ducks for a conditional 5th round pick in 2015, showing the major decrease in trade value for a former 1st rounder. Montreal’s roster is littered with successful first rounders – Max Pacioretty [22nd 2007] and Carey Price [5th 2005] are the most notable first round picks which have proved to be diamonds for the Canadiens’ organization.
This considerable weight of expectation also falls upon the shoulders of Nathan Beaulieu.
The 22 year old from Strathroy, Ontario was picked up by the historic franchise, 16th overall in the 2011 NHL Entry Draft, with these expectations comfortable resting upon his shoulders. He enjoyed a hugely successful junior career within the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, with 3 full seasons of 45, 45 and 52 points from 2009-10 to 2011-12 following his freshman year, alongside a victory within the CHL Memorial Cup in 2010-11; overall, an impressive junior career.
Those numbers are highly impressive for a defenceman; unfortunately however, Beaulieu hasn’t managed to implement these numbers into the National Hockey League, although he’s had fairly successful years with Montreal’s farm team in the American Hockey League with totals of 14 goals and 44 assists in 124 games for the Hamilton Bulldogs.
Under Marc Bergevin, the Canadiens’ have seen a resurgence following their disastrous 2011-12 season when the team finished 15th within the Eastern conference, which actually proved to be a saviour for the Canadiens with the drafting of Alex Galchenyuk 3rd overall, and in fact the hiring of Marc Bergevin as the General Manager. With this resurgence, the Canadiens’ have seen the growth of younger talent and the removal of some long standing players such as Josh Gorges and even Captain Brian Gionta in the most recent offseason to pave the way for a fresher and younger Montreal Canadiens team.
This was almost a green light for Beaulieu; despite this, his transition to a confirmed slot upon the back end was not guaranteed until his last call-up on 12 September 2014. Despite only recently registering the first goal of his fledgling NHL Career on 18 February 2015 in a 4-2 loss versus the Ottawa Senators, Beaulieu’s flair alongside strong and smart defensive play has seen him not only cement his place within the line-up, but in fact seen him elevated to the 2nd defensive pair alongside 40 year old Sergei Gonchar, who was acquired in a trade with the Dallas Stars for Travis Moen.
The presence of Gonchar has seen Beaulieu’s already smart defensive play continue to grow from strength to strength, with the 40 year old playing a key role as a seasoned mentor alongside the young defenceman. A player once who lacked the complete confidence of Michel Therrien, a coach who’s known for a tentative approach towards rookies, to in fact become trusted enough to play alongside another young defenceman – in this case Greg Pateryn, who alongside Jarred Tinordi was called up to fill the Emelin- and Gonchar-sized holes in the Canadiens’ defence.
This trust is paramount and will only see Beaulieu begin to flourish massively, alongside the role of PP Quarterback on the second unit on a struggling powerplay. However, exposure to those minutes will stand Beaulieu in good stead, with the sky truly the limit for the good Ontario boy, if I was to quote Don Cherry.