The Montreal Canadiens have a plethora of defensive prospects but many are far from reaching the NHL. Nathan Beaulieu and Jarred Tinordi are the best in the system and waiting for them to develop has been a test of patience for many Habs fans. In terms of style, they are polar opposites. Beaulieu is a smooth skating offensive defenceman while Tinordi is the big crease clearing defensive presence. They made the Habs out of camp but both were sent down to the AHL at different times. Beaulieu has since rejoined the Habs and is playing top four minutes. With his tantalizing potential, it begs the question of just how good Beaulieu can become.
What got him here
In junior, Beaulieu played big minutes for the QMJHL’s Saint John SeaDogs under the tutelage of current Florida Panthers head coach Gerard Gallant. He won two QMJHL championships along with a Memorial Cup in 2011 and was a part of Canada’s bronze medal winning world junior team in 2012. His skating and offensive ability were what made him stand out and he was the best player available on the draft board when he was selected 17th overall by Montreal. His risky offensive game garnered inevitable comparisons to PK Subban on draft day.
His importance to Montreal
Other than Beaulieu and the 25-year-old Subban, the majority of Montreal’s defence corps is a lot older. Sergei Gonchar is 40, Andrei Markov and Mike Weaver are 36, Tom Gilbert is 32 and Alexei Emelin is 28. Montreal hasn’t had a youthful defence corps in a long time which makes Beaulieu’s development that much more important. He is the best skater on the back end as his speed could rival that of many forwards. Being paired with Gonchar has made for a nice second pairing as Gonchar has played the mentor role for many years and Beaulieu’s game has calmed down playing alongside the veteran.
The numbers haven’t come for Beaulieu just yet but his game has grown in other areas. His defensive awareness has improved greatly and he has an underrated mean streak. Most would expect the bigger Tinordi to be the nasty one but Beaulieu has dropped the gloves on occasion and isn’t afraid to get someone’s face. He has good size at 6′ 2″ and 194 LBS (according to NHL.com) with more room to fill out.
How good is he?
Beaulieu is one of those players who can be as good as he wants to be. A lot of players have the mental desire but not the natural ability. Beaulieu possesses a lot of attributes that can’t be taught which makes him so intriguing. It isn’t unusual for young defenceman to take longer to develop as a guy like Aaron Ekblad is an anomaly at age 18. Beaulieu projects to be a solid top four defenceman who can put up points but a part of me wonders if he could exceed that and become a top pairing defenceman alongside PK Subban. Beaulieu is so close to breaking out as a player and when the day comes, other teams better watch out.