Prior to the roster freeze for the expansion draft, the Buffalo Sabres made another move to improve the defense. They acquired Nathan Beaulieu from the Montreal Canadiens in exchange for a 2017 third-round pick (68th overall selection).
The 24-year-old is a left shot defender who was a first-round pick of the Canadiens in the 2011 draft. He has good size at 6’2″ and 205 pounds. Beaulieu is also a good skater and fits the mold of that puck moving blue liner the Sabres are in the market for. He scored four goals and 28 points in 74 games with the Habs last season before things went south.
Beaulieu was expected to step up and be a big part of the Canadiens back end this past season. Especially as a puck mover after trading PK Subban in the offseason for Shea Weber, which put the pressure on him immediately to fill some big shoes. Like a lot of young players, he had his ups and downs throughout the season that culminated with the Ontario native being a healthy scratch in Game 6 against the New York Rangers.
With how the season ended Beaulieu wasn’t caught off by the trade to the Sabres. “I kinda figured it was going to happen,” said Beaulieu. He went on to say in a conference call with the Buffalo media on Sunday that “I really felt pretty strongly that a move like this was going to be made and was going to be best for me.”
He also described the Game 6 scratching as the “cherry on top,” of the events that led to him being moved out of Montreal. There were questions about his commitment to the game and work ethic that may have contributed to the defenseman’s value being low in the trade market.
Fortunately for the Sabres, they appear to be getting a player who is determined to show that he is the player that many thought he could be last season. Asked if he had any resentment against the Canadiens, Beaulieu said: “It’s just motivation.”
He has an opportunity for a fresh start at a very young age with a team that has a core full of young players. Beaulieu said he see’s the move to Buffalo as a “huge opportunity.” He’ll have the chance to compete for a top four spot on the Sabres blue line come training camp in the fall.
General manager Jason Botterill has certainly set a precedent for the type of defenseman he wants on his roster with the signing of Viktor Antipin and now Beaulieu. He wants players who can skate in head coach Phil Housley’s up-tempo system. As well as excel as a puck mover to get the puck on the stick of the skilled forwards like Jack Eichel and Ryan O’Reilly.
The Sabres bought low on a young player with the potential to be a top-four defender. Beaulieu has work to do to get to that point, but with the new opportunity and coaching of Housley, it’s not out of the question for him to hit his potential.