Within an organization, the development of young players almost always plays a big role in how successful an organization is. We can discuss that forwards and defenseman have completely different development curves and that in order to ensure growth, patience is very vital to the process and that no two situations are the same. Every player that has pushed their way into the NHL has had obstacles to climb along the way in order to reach their end goal, even the likes of Sidney Crosby and Wayne Gretzky. It’s not an easy game. If it were, everyone would be playing pro hockey.
Just the Beginning
When you’re selecting in the first round of a draft, you should be drafting on skill and upside, and that is exactly what the Canadiens did when selecting Nathan Beaulieu 17th overall in 2011. Since being called up to the NHL for brief stints in 2012-2013 and 2013-2014, Beaulieu was able to secure his spot in the line up last season and begin to show the Canadiens brass why they selected him in the first round.
The fast and strong skating defenseman uses a finesse style and slick hands to control the play and create smooth breakouts that help transition the Canadiens to the offensive zone. Beaulieu has a strong reach which allows him to break up plays with ease and in a league where possession is starting to play a stronger role, this is a vital strength to have as a defenseman. After a slow start this season ,Beaulieu improved his play and was able to sign a two year extension this off season, which will give him the chance to prove his worth before cashing in on a bigger deal.
The development of Beaulieu has been a unique one as a defenseman, but we are all starting to see what potential he entails and what he can be if he is able to put together his game as an entirety. It will be difficult for Beaulieu to ever play on the top pairing unless he exceeds Petry, but he certaintly has the capability to do this with such a unique skillset. With PK Subban, Andrei Markov and Jeff Petry currently ahead of Beaulieu on the depth chart, it will be interesting to see if Beaulieu outplays Tom Gilbert this season, as he has already blown Alexei Emelin out of the water in terms of his play.
I’m ready for a bigger role with the Canadiens. That’s what they expect of me and that’s where my head’s at.
When a player signs a new contract, this leads to new expectations of what is wanted of them and they have to continue to find that drive and push in order to be successful and continue to grow as a player. Beaulieu knows that this is just the beginning for him and that if he wants to have a larger impact on his team, that he will have to put in the work and show the coaching staff that he is capable of playing top four minutes on the Canadiens blue line.
With the new contract, the team has more obligation with me and they expect bigger things from me. I know I’m going to have a bigger role and I know that with the success I had last year, I can’t take my foot off the gas now.
If the Canadiens hope to improve their play this season, Beaulieu will be a big part in helping them transition better to go along with his great first pass. The smooth skating defenseman should help form a great second powerplay wave with Jeff Petry, behind PK Subban and Andrei Markov. It will be interesting to see if the Canadiens alter to have Petry on the first wave with Subban in order to try and cut down some of Markovs minutes, as Petry is certainly capable of running a powerplay.
There were flashes in the 2014-2015 season where Beaulieu was the best player on the ice, and was very evident, and if he wants to prove that he can play top four minutes which most of us know he can, then he will have to show more consistency in his game and continue to play to his strong suits.
A Talented Canadiens Backend
A top four of PK Subban, Jeff Petry, Andrei Markov and Nathan Beaulieu would create a lot of mismatchs for opponents. Subban, Petry and Beaulieu all have elite skating skills to go along with good puck moving skills, and Markov who possesses great hockey sense and one of the best first passes in hockey.
With Markov`s career slowly winding down, Beaulieu can help ease the load from him and take some of his minutes so that the crafty veteran is healthy and not exhausted come the post season. Unfortunately for Habs fans, it will be difficult for Beaulieu to enter the season in a top 4 role, as head coach Michel Therrien has a disturbing amount of trust for heavy-hitter Alexei Emelin.
Nathan Beaulieu has been a top-4 defenseman on the Habs for 2 years, will enter next season on the 3rd pair.
— Andrew Berkshire (@AndrewBerkshire) June 29, 2015
Therrien lacks the ability to trust his young star players, and it is very confusing to Habs fans because the team lacks scoring and creativity. Beaulieu will directly have a positive presence on the Canadiens attack game, but Michel has a hard time trusting players with creativity and this may ultimately be one of his many downfalls as head coach.
In order to take this team to the next level, the young guns will need to be more relied upon. Yes, mistakes will be made, but that is all part of the learning curve and I believe that the positive impact they have will certainly outweigh their mistakes. Beaulieu has become much more responsible in his own zone and has began to use his big frame to help block lanes and create turnovers. Nathan needs to be placed in better situations in order to improve his game, which is directly the job of the head coach, to put his players in the best position for them to succeed.
If the Canadiens have any hope to improve their offense next season, Beaulieu will unquestionably be a large part of this. It`s a young man`s game, and its time for the Canadiens to adapt to this.
Zack joined The Hockey Writers in 2015 and has been writing about hockey for over 4 seasons. He currently covers the Montreal Canadiens and Peterborough Petes for The Hockey Writers.