Monday, September 18, 2017

Building the 2017-18 Buffalo Sabres roster--D, Nathan Beaulieu

Published by, 9-17-2017

Nathan Beaulieu
24 yrs. old
6'2" 205 lbs.
2011, 17th-overall (MTL) Acquired by Buffalo on June 17, 2017

Career stats:  225 goals  |  7 goals  |  53 assists  |  60 points  |  +19

Defenseman Nathan Beaulieu was taken 17th-overall by the Montreal Canadians in the 2011 NHL Draft. He was drafted to be an "offensive-defenseman," according to Chris Bordeleau of, a d-man who's "a good skater, good puck-mover...has a good shot and is very poised with the puck."

Heading into the draft, the left-shot Beaulieu was coming off of an impressive draft season with the Saint John Sea Dogs of the QMJHL where he had his second consecutive 45-point season on the exact same totals of 12 goals and 33 assists. He was also a plus-44, which was one point better than the previous season, and he finished off the year as Memorial Cup Champion with the Sea Dogs. Although projected as a top-10 pick, Beaulieu falling to No. 17 was an "unexpected gift" for Montreal, according to Andrew Berkshire of the Habs site, EyesOnThePrize.

"Most scouting reports agree that Beaulieu's strongest assets are his skating ability and offensive instincts," wrote Berkshire in his Montreal draft review, "although he is guilty of forcing plays at times when there isn't one to be had. In fact in many respects Beaulieu seems very similar to another Habs prospect we have all come to love over the last few years: P.K. Subban."

Beaulieu finished his junior career by upping his point total to 52 (11+41) in only 53 games his final season and began to ply his trade with Montreal's AHL affiliate, the Hamilton Bulldogs, in 2012-13. He had a banner rookie season as a pro scoring 31 (7+24) points for Hamilton and earned a call to the big club for six regular season games. The following season he would have another solid campaign (7+20) and after playing in 13 regular season games for the Habs he made the post-season roster  appearing in seven playoff games for Montreal. This was a nice progression for Beaulieu and after eight games with Hamilton in 2014-15, he said goodbye to the AHL.

Yet, unbeknownst to Beaulieu changes would be coming to Montreal and with blotches on his Canadiens' career beginning to show, he found himself on the trading block eventually ending up with the Buffalo Sabres.

In April, 2013 Beaulieu and his father were involved in an incident at a post-golf party that brought assault charges against each of them. Four months later they both pleaded guilty to the charges. The word 'party' would follow Beaulieu again two years later in December, 2015 as a video was posted of him and teammate Chris Thomas, "partying the night away" following a loss that night to the Carolina Hurricanes. Thomas was traded ten days later and although the Habs claim there was no correlation between the incident and the trade, speculative dots were being connected.

A month later star forward Alex Galchenyuk was in the news for a domestic incident with his girlfriend who was arrested on a Sunday morning. Although the Beaulieu/Thomas and Galchenyuk incidents might not be related, Habs blogger Brandon Smillie pointed to rumors that "Beaulieu's party life was sucking Galchenyuk into it as well."

The 2015-16 season was a very stressful one for the Canadiens as they lost Vezina-winning goalie Carey Price to a season-ending injury very early that season. Despite that, the Habs were at the top of the NHL standings heading into December but by mid-month (just after the Beaulieu/Thomas video) they were in the beginnings of a tailspin that would eventually cause them miss the playoffs. After a tumultuous season, Subban was traded to the Nashville Predators in a shocking one-for-one deal for Shea Weber of the Nashville Predators.

More changes were to follow this past season as Habs coach Michel Therrien was fired and replaced by Claude Julien on February 14. Beaulieu, who had started out the season with appearances on the top-pairing with Weber slowly fell down the depth chart. He went to the third pairing and then was a healthy scratch late in the season and for the final game of their first round playoff loss to the NY Rangers.

On May 17, former NHL'er Georges Laraque said (via GoHabsGo) that "the Montreal Canadiens have decided to trade both Alex Galchenyuk and Nathan Beaulieu over the summer." He noted that "the two youngsters have been involved in several controversies over the last few months due to some elements of their lives outside the rink and it is well known that the Habs organization has very thin patience when it comes to outside the rink incidents."

A month later, on June 17, Beaulieu was traded to the Sabres.

All of this is not to bag on Beaulieu for what he does on his own time, nor is it meant to lay the blame for the Habs decline on any or all mentioned above (save for the loss of Price to injury.) It's simply laid out to give some background as to why the Sabres were able to trade a third round pick for Beaulieu in June, just prior to the expansion draft.

According to Smillie, Beaulieu looked like a real solid top-four defender who could get you 25-30 points and was a fairly tough customer. Ironically, last season was his best pro season (4 goals, 24 assists, +8) despite falling down the depth chart and ending up in the new head coach's dog house.

Lucky for Buffalo, Beaulieu fell into the Sabres lap when they really needed to upgrade their defense-corps. He was the second of three d-men brought in by new GM Jason Botterill as he tries to revamp the Sabres defense with more mobile, puck movers. He's an NHL defender and when he's able to play his game, he looks the part of a top-four defender, which is what the Sabres were in need of.

For Beaulieu the trade to the Sabres was an opportunity for a fresh start. "I'm not going to get into too much about Montreal," he said after the trade. "I'm focused on Buffalo.

"I've got a huge opportunity to re-grow my game with a guy [in Buffalo head coach Phil Housley] who played the game similarly to the way I would like to play it."

Beaulieu signed a two-year contract with the Sabres this summer and although it's not a "prove-it" type deal in a "show me" type season for him, the onus is on him to do the work and focus his energies on his new team. There's a lot to learn and he'll be expected to play a solid role for the team somewhere in the bottom-four. I'm not sure if the "party-boy" label is true, but if he wants to reach his potential, it begins with an opportunity in Buffalo.

Like former Sabres GM Tim Murray once said, it's "not all rainbows, jujus and unicorns" with players. There are many who have warts and were not even sure what may or may not be true about Beaulieu's time in Montreal. We do know that on the ice he's  good-sized defenseman with great mobility who was drafted for his offensive prowess. He's still young at 24 yrs. old and props to the Canadiens for gradually working him through the system.

Should he work out, it will have benefitted the Sabres nicely.

Building the 2017-18 Buffalo Sabres roster:

LW, Evander Kane / C, Jack Eichel / RW, Sam Reinhart
LW, Benoit Pouliot / C, Ryan O'Reilly / RW, Kyle Okposo
LW, Evan Rodrigues / C, Johan Larsson / RW, Jason Pominville

D, Marco Scandella / D, Rasmus Ristolainen
D, Jake McCabe / D, Zach Bogosian
D, Nathan Beaulieu / D, Victor Antipin

G, Robin Lehner

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