When Nathan Beaulieu went 17th overall in the 2011 entry draft, he had no qualms as he grew up a Habs fan. The Montreal Canadiens obviously didn’t mind him dropping from his projected rank either, by six spots. Considerably a steal in his year, Beaulieu has been heralded as one of the crown jewels in the Montreal Canadiens’ prospect pool since arriving with the organization on draft day, in spite of being placed amongst such a vast pool of defensive depth in the system that’s only continued to grow since then.
The former Sea Dog of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, Beaulieu has been a staple of the Hamilton Bulldogs defensive lineup. Amassing 31 points in 67 games in the 2012-13 season with the Dogs, Beaulieu bears an arsenal of weapons and upsides befitting that of a superstar on the rise. Coming up just in time for this team, a freewheeling, left handed, wrist shot dynamo from the left side, this youngster will be the answer for filling Markov’s shoes the day that he retires or leaves the team otherwise.
The fact at the given moment, though, is that Markov is far from the party that he has to compete with. The ones that he IS competing with, however, are all part of the reason that this young man needs to stay with Montreal’s main roster on a permanent basis. Looking past the undeniable top two of today between Markov and Subban, the following are the parties he would have to compete with.
Josh Gorges: Maybe not someone that Beaulieu would be so likely to surpass in the depth charts at this point due to a multitude of reasons but would, in fact, be likely to work alongside him. Gorges, inconsistent as he has been this season, provides the kind of own zone prowess and leadership presence that Beaulieu would benefit from in the beginning stages of his permanent stay in Montreal on even strength shifts. Placing Beaulieu as D-man number 3/4 with this projected pairing, the other options would be his true competition, should they be considered as such.
Alexei Emelin: Is it not just a little bit strange that as soon as Montreal’s resident Russian wrecking ball got his contract extension that David Desharnais started playing to his expectations? The extension curse seems to have drifted it’s way over to a guy that is now about to be paid like a legitimate NHL level defenceman and it has not been a successful endeavor since then. The fact still stands that he is actually a left side defenceman that Michel Therrien continues to play on the right side for no apparent reason. Aside from that setback, Emelin has seen better games on the right side in prior times and seasons. Having been caught making a number of mistakes this season, he has only recently (it seems) being reprimanded for them. At this point, is it not justifiable to place him ahead of Beaulieu on the depth charts until proven otherwise. For now, place Emelin on the bottom pair.
Douglas Murray: Fans only being more excited for George Parros this past off season, the honeymoon quickly went south when everyone was so rudely reminded that he is a slug and a plug to patch things up in otherwise lacking upsides for this team’s balance. He was the only feasible, available and affordable option out there to be a physically punishing crease clearer that may just be willing to drop the gloves from time to time. In other words, they wanted Jarred Tinordi to be older, slower, less skilled with the puck, less productive and not the same level of fighter. After all, Murray did a “fantastic” job clearing the crease when the Penguins invaded the point, put the puck past Price and knocked him over after the fact. In no way, be it style or skill level, could Douglas Murray be even remotely compared to Nathan Beaulieu. Not only does Murray not rank above him on the depth chart, Murray should not play any game that isn’t against a rival team that would require physical imposition… if any game at all.
Davis Drewiske: Not likely a threat but to the fairness of the fact that he is still currently injured, Drewiske shall be left alone for the time being.
Francis Bouillon: At times, the guy doesn’t get a fair shake. Frankie Boo is a little pit bull and should forever be remembered for one punching Darcy Tucker. Considering Bouillon is often times paired up with the bottom of Montreal’s barrel, it doesn’t often work in his favor. In fact, the only time Bouillon seems to get a decent partner is when he is on the power play unit and still can’t seem to do much on the man advantage. Beaulieu, on the other hand, is ideal for the power play. The back end of Montreal’s power play could feasibly see Markov and Subban play for the full two minutes and it would not be the first time it’s happened. Beaulieu opens up the chance for 1: an alternative partner for Subban when they have a man up and 2: the first half of another dynamic power play duo. Could he perhaps get something out of Bouillon on that realm? In any consideration, perhaps lacking the same level of physical upside that Bouillon has –namely for his size– Beaulieu is simply faster and more productive with more years, potential and promise ahead of him. Bouillon on the bottom pair with Emelin doesn’t sound like the worst thing but above Beaulieu? Under no circumstances.
Raphael Diaz: Perhaps the best direct comparison. They both have same the sort of expectations and to the same sorts of numbers and levels. Diaz, however, has had perhaps two games with his name in positive connotation thus far this season. He’s a good skater, Beaulieu’s better; he’s been known to be silently productive, Beaulieu does it more so and more noticeably. Diaz doesn’t necessarily have the greatest vision or offensive awareness but Beaulieu’s is only surpassed on this team by the likes of Andrei Markov and the defending Norris Trophy winner himself. If that’s all that’s ahead of him in the offensive zone categories on this team, then being the third best in those regards isn’t bad at all. Next to them, it is also Beaulieu that is the superior puck mover to Diaz. Perhaps Diaz has him beat in the category of godly accents, to such a level that could strip listeners down to their skivvies by simply reaching their eardrums. Maybe he can stay on as a permanent healthy scratch, solely for the sake of doing interviews and such. Otherwise, the right side answer to Emelin’s bottom pairing partner? Tinordi being called back up again or even Greg Pateryn would be more preferable options to the majority but if worse comes to worst, not the worst idea. However, just the same as the others, still not the guy to surpass “Beauflow” on the depth charts.
A December born boy, Beaulieu got to spend additional time from a younger age in the AHL and was more quickly thrown into the fire than even the vast majority of those from his draft year, let alone all up-and-comers in general. He opted to swim instead as opposed to sinking and he’s developed fantastically as a result. The talent level at the AHL will not provide as great a challenge for much longer. In order to keep him progressing at this rate, Beaulieu needs to be thrown into yet another trial by fire with consistent NHL ice time, no less performing in front of Canadiens fans. Regardless of the place he’s given or the minutes slotted to his name, Beaulieu will be given a chance to showcase that he’s learned when to skate back and stay in the lane and when to pinch and take chances. The only considerations that his teammates need to keep in mind is that because he is perfectly capable of jumping up into the play, someone will need to cover back for him and that might include additional responsibilities for his defensive partner. Rest assured, though, they will see that these efforts are worth it.
Considering the plethora of options and talent within the system, perhaps a blockbuster deal or an overpaid free agent isn’t the answer. Maybe the answer is already within the fold. Maybe there is a certain supply of deadwood that will be burned out with the emergence of Beaulieu and other potential cohorts. Championship teams, especially with the salary cap in effect, come from within.
Besides, looking at the depth options on defence, what could it hurt? Could it be worse? The short answer would be “no” but the more eloquent answer begs the tune of “let’s find out.”
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