Published by hockeybuzz.com, 3-16-2018
If you've watched Nathan Beaulieu in his 51 games as a Buffalo Sabre defenseman this season, it seems as if every game he has an egregious turnover that leads to a golden opportunity for the opposition with many of them ending up in the Buffalo net. That trend has subsided as of late but the numbers are still pretty ugly at this point in the season as Beaulieu has only seven points (1+6) in those games and is a minus-19, third-worst on the team.
Despite those numbers and the fact that this particular blogger wanted him run out of town earlier in the season, Beaulieu has grown on me lately.
The 25 yr. old has a skill-package that's made for the way the game is played today from the back end and it's probably why Sabres GM Jason Botterill sent a third-round pick to the Montreal Canadiens to acquire him last off season. Beaulieu was selected 17th-overall in 2011 by Les Habitants after helping the St. Johns Sea Dogs (QMJHL) to the 2011 Memorial Cup.
An offensive-minded defenseman with excellent skating and puck-moving abilities, Beaulieu spent five years in the Montreal organization, the last of which had him skating on the top-pair early in the season but slowly seeing his role reduced to the point where he was in the press box for the decisive Game-6 loss by Montreal to the NY Rangers in the 2017 Stanley Cup playoffs. He was traded by the Canadiens just prior to the NHL roster freeze heading into the expansion draft.
All the traits he was traded for on his new Phil Housley coached team remained when he hit the ice in Buffalo, as were the turnovers and missed coverage. As in Montreal, Beaulieu started out logging big minutes but slowly saw his time reduced and had been a healthy scratch for a number of games this season. Yet it's hard not to like him when you see him get on his horse and move that puck up ice as it's exactly what Housley wants his defensemen to do.
In watching Beaulieu all season, the 6'2" 200 lb. d-man also plays with an edge as he's looking to make a hit or try an clear the front of the crease. He's also willing to drop the gloves as he did last night against rugged Toronto Maple Leafs forward Matt Martin. Although Martin and his 6'3" 210 lb. gave him a size advantage, Beaulieu didn't hesitate and also said afterwards that he was grateful that Martin obliged.
"Sometimes it's just something you need to do," Beaulieu told the gathered media after Buffalo's 5-2 loss to the Leafs last night. "[I] have a lot of respect for him over there to give me an opportunity. He's a tough customer. I was just trying to wake the boys up."
It's the fourth time that Beaulieu has dropped the gloves this season and it wasn't against Alex Semin-type buttercups either.
Probably the most endearing aspect of this whole situation is Beaulieu's thoughts on the Leafs, Buffalo's rival to the north. The Strathroy, Ontario native grew up not far from Toronto but never bought into Leaf Nation and has a healthy dislike for the Maple Leafs. "I've had a hatred for them since I was born," he said last night before giving them props for being "one of the best organizations in all of sports."
Beaulieu has one more season left on his contract with Buffalo and a lot can happen. Hell, a lot has happened already as the Sabres are once again the laughingstock of the league, presently sitting in last place. Although were not sure that Beaulieu will clean up his turnovers and d-zone mishaps, it is refreshing to see spunk and grit coming from a player that has skills to contribute in the way the game is played today.
Where it all leads is another story for another day, but for now it was good to see some fire coming from a Sabres player and good for Beaulieu to land a punch that buckled Martin's knees.
One final note on the fight, prior to that Martin downed Sabres forward Evan Rodrigues with a slew-foot. Whether that was part of the throw down isn't known but the league should take a look at it and fine Martin for pulling that stunt.
The Sabres were clearly not ready for the game last night and looked every bit the team that were five games between games. It didn't help that they let in a bad goal to start things off and were playing from behind all night. It's something you can't do against a speedy, talented club like Toronto.
With the loss, the Sabres remain in last place in the standings:
26th--Montreal (64 points)
With 12 games remaining in the season, Buffalo in last place and if the season were to end now, they'd have a 18.5% chance of winning the lottery to select first-overall in the 2018 NHL Draft.
There is an NHL lottery simulator web site which has become very popular for Sabres fans the last few years, when you go there you can pick the winners for the first three spots in the draft.
For today this is what I came up with: