We’re pleased to publish the first of a weekly column from Andrew Saadalla. Andrew is a Canadiens writer and a podcast host for HockeyBuzz and has joined the Rocket Sports Media team as a guest columnist for the upcoming season. Be sure to follow him on Twitter and leave your comments for him below.
MONTREAL, QC. — In 2011, the Montreal Canadiens selected Nathan Beaulieu in the first round of the NHL Entry Draft. The Strathroy, Ontario native and 17th overall pick was destined to become a long serving two-way defenseman capable of slotting into a top-two defensive pairing. Besides a few seasons playing with the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League’s Saint John Sea Dogs, which saw him average 12 goals and a little over 45 points a season, Beaulieu had less-than-stellar results in the American Hockey League and hardly made any sustainable noise playing for the Hamilton Bulldogs.
Moreover, his progress with the Habs has certainly been subject to debate, where his consistency and confidence have been questioned on a regular basis by experts and other members of the media. Injury-plagued campaigns have limited him to no more than 64 games a season in the NHL, as his offensive output has been underwhelming.
Now, fans and analysts alike are being treated to a revitalized 23-year-old, who has somehow decided to turn it all around and be a dominant force in the National Hockey League. While the preseason schedule does not determine just how successful a player will be during the regular season, it is hard to imagine Beaulieu not grabbing the reins of his young career and making it count in 2016-2017.
He convincingly posted a single-game career-best four points in last Tuesday’s exhibition matchup against the Washington Capitals, and continued to flash the kind of infallible self-assurance with every single skating stride that we have only come to witness for the first time this week. What we therefore have before us is a defenseman whose confidence is so high that it borders on arrogance, yet I doubt he’ll be stepping on anybody’s toes anytime soon.
Lately, Beaulieu is handling the puck with a newfound boldness, keeping his eyes up as he dominates plays with his size, speed, and vision. He keeps his chest out every time he hits the ice, so to speak, and is all of a sudden making everyone around him a better player just with his commanding presence and superior hockey sense. After losing P.K. Subban to the Nashville Predators in a trade that brought in Shea Weber, many were left scratching their heads in wonderment: who could possibly fill the hole left behind by one of the most electrifying players in the NHL?
The questions continue. Who has the necessary skill set to play intelligent, mistake-free hockey in the defensive zone while being capable of seamlessly starting the transition through the neutral zone and past the opponent’s blue line? Who will succeed in turning the woeful power play around and provide teammates with viable scoring options during the man advantage? Most importantly, where will leadership and character stem from now that (what many considered to be) the heart and soul of not only the Canadiens but also the city of Montreal is gone?
It appears we have an answer, at long last. Nathan Beaulieu is not only exceptionally impressive on the ice, but he oozes of the kind of audacity and poise that make for great and lasting leaders.
Scroll through his Twitter feed and see how adamant he was in standing up for his teammate Max Pacioretty after rumours of head coach Michel Therrien calling the latter the “worst captain in franchise history” came to light a few short weeks ago. Beaulieu stuck his neck out for Pacioretty, needlessly drawing to himself the kind of attention that the Habs’ brass has shown it despises. He didn’t have to do that, but he did.
That is leadership.
You need not look any further than his post-game interviews. Despite the cowardice demonstrated by his new teammate Andrew Shaw who rightfully earned himself a three-game suspension after his violent and classless antics in Tuesday night’s game, Beaulieu called him “his favorite player.” That shows just how much Beaulieu is willing to stand up for his teammates, which is precisely the kind of attitude that was sorely lacking within the locker room during last year’s tumultuous and all-too-forgettable collapse.
That is leadership.
Pay close attention to how much of a difference-maker Beaulieu is on the ice, all without taking unnecessary risks and always selflessly passing the puck. He creates chances while blindly placing his trust in defensive partner Greg Pateryn – not known in the NHL for his offensive prowess – because he knows that everyone deserves a fair chance. He elevates those around him, and he does not need to rely on long-winded speeches or bold statements to do so. His actions speak louder than any words can.
And that, ladies and gentlemen, is what I would define as leadership.
That’s not to mention the few times he’s dropped his gloves to send a message to the other team. He’s not a particularly good fighter, but demonstrating that kind of initiative goes a very long way in the eyes of those who look up to a young, veteran leader such as himself.
There are nevertheless burning questions regarding number 28. Is all of this a flash in the pan, or has he unquestionably decided that it’s his time to shine? There were trade rumours revolving around him two weeks ago when general manager Marc Bergevin publicly said that he is fielding offers for the young blue-liner. Is Beaulieu attempting to increase his value in order to find greener pastures? Do his excellent performances coincide all too much with the fact that he could be shipped out of town on the drop of a dime?
I don’t have the answers to that. What I can tell you, dear readers, is that Nathan Beaulieu is finally coming into form and if he keeps this up, Bergevin would be making a grave mistake in trading him away. After all, it’s rare to find someone with as much untapped talent and potential as the former is showing. Soon, he will be a power play specialist and if he sticks around, I’m more than confident he will find himself wearing a letter on his jersey sooner rather than later.