“With the 17th overall pick, in the 2011 NHL Entry Draft, the Montreal Canadiens are proud to select from the QMJHL’s Saint John Sea Dogs, Nathan Beaulieu!”
It’s been almost 5 years since the Canadiens’ management were on the clock and made this selection. Beaulieu, a crafty puck-moving defenceman from Strathroy Ontario, who was proven effective in both ends of the ice. Although many still question, was it the right one? This is the Draft Analysis.
2011 was a relatively quiet draft year, where the top three was highlighted by Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Gabriel Landeskog and Jonathan Huberdeau. Although as mentioned before, the Canadiens drew the 17th pick of this draft and they selected who we know now as “Beauflow”. With 100 points in three QMJHL seasons, and a memorial cup run under his belt, he was a prospect with high offensive and defensive upside and somebody who fit in well with the Montreal organization. Initially in 2011-2012, he was sent back to the Sea Dogs to finish out his junior career, where he had yet another successful season posting 11 goals and 42 assists in 52 games. Then in 2012-2013 he played his first professional season with former AHL affiliate, the Hamilton Bulldogs, strutting 7 goals and 24 assists in 67 games. In the next seasons Nate bounced back and forth between the NHL and AHL, not seeming to find a solid place, all while still playing a mostly solid game.
Fast forward to today, the date is February 19th, 2016. The Canadiens are in the midst of their worst stretch in the team’s history. Beaulieu is participating in his first full NHL season and has been one of the only bright spots in a relatively dark campaign for the boys in bleu, blanc et rouge. The 23-year old blue liner has 2 goals and 15 assists in 54 games played, with an even plus/minus rating. He has also been one of the only players willing and able to step up in the fight department. All of this while bouncing from the top pairing to the bottom, dealing with the uncertainty of coach Michel Therrien, which most can agree is a pretty impressive feat. He is on track to become the top two defenceman Trevor Timmins and the scouting team hoped for him to be. At the beginning of the 2015-2016 season Beaulieu had this to say:
I feel like I’ve finally figured this league out and now that I’m done getting my feet wet, it’s time for me to show what I can really do.
So now that we’ve taken a look at Nate’s past, and his current development, we can analyze whether or not this truly was the right decision. In order to truly make an argument, I took a look at the rest of players drafted in the back half of the first round, as well as the ones in the second and third. In this group of 73 players, only six have played more NHL games. These players are Brandon Saad, Nikita Kucherov, Matt Nieto, Connor Murphy, Tomas Jurco and Boone Jenner. On top of this, he has not been outscored by any defenceman selected after him. Now at first glance, Brandon Saad and Nikita Kucherov are two players that jump off the page as obvious decisions to draft. Although what we must remember, is what was the need at the time, and how has it affected the team today. At the time of selection, defensive prospects were scarce in the Habs’ system and Beaulieu was a player who had the skill set to be something special in the NHL, and he still does. Looking on how this selection affects the organization now, it’s obvious that this was the correct decision. A vital part of the core and a future top two, Beaulieu has had steady growth in his knowledge, skills and confidence, with much more room to continue. He has been a steady hand on the back end, both at 5v5 and on the PP, in a time where it’s been borderline impossible to be. Although somebody like Saad or Kucherov would’ve been players that complimented the top six quite nicely, we can have comfort in the fact that Nathan is somebody that the Habs can rely on and somebody who can continue to blossom. Additionally, if you look in the system, the Canadiens do not have someone of his potential to play the left side coming up after him.
In conclusion, I think we can all agree that Beaulieu is not a perfect player, he makes mistakes and will continue to in the future, just as every player does. Furthermore, he is someone who brings forth a whole world more good than bad, was a draft pick that was a success from the beginning and will continue to be in the future.