by Ryan Skilton, Staff Writer, All Habs Hockey Magazine

Tinordi Beaulieu
(Photo by Canadian Press)

CHICAGO, IL. — Jarred Tinordi and Nathan Beaulieu have been somewhat linked since becoming members of the Montreal Canadiens in 2010 and 2011 respectively. They both were born in the same year, drafted in the same round, play the same position and shoot from the same side. To boot, the Habs’ coaching staff can’t seem to make up their minds about them; Tinordi and Beaulieu have flown back and forth from Hamilton enough times to make them a part of the “Million Mile Club.”

All jokes aside, the two young defensemen have shown lots of promise throughout their development and look just about ready to make the leap into the NHL. Whether management agrees remains to be seen.

In an interview with TVA Sports, Marc Bergevin indicated he expects “one of Beaulieu, Tinordi, Greg Pateryn and Magnus Nygren to make the team this year.” Now, some would argue at least two, if not three from that list deserve to be on the roster when the Canadiens take on the Toronto Maple Leafs on Oct. 8 at the Air Canada Centre.

That’s ultimately up to Michel Therrien and company, though.

We can only speak in the hypothetical, which begs the question: which player deserves a full-time roster spot more, Tinordi or Beaulieu?

Well, let’s take a look at what each player brings to the table.

Jarred Tinordi

Pros

Drafted 22nd overall in the 2010 NHL Entry Draft, Tinordi has a skill set you don’t come across very often. Standing at 6-foot-6, and weighing in at 227 pounds, the 22-year-old Minnesota native plays the physical game better than most. Scouts have praised him for being a consistent shutdown defender who can log a lot of minutes at the elite level.

Not to mention, with George Parros’ departure, Montreal no longer has a heavyweight enforcer to protect their star players. When called upon, Tinordi has no problem dropping the gloves, which can certainly be useful against teams like the Boston Bruins. Some may argue enforcers are no longer required in today’s NHL. To an extent, that may be true. However, the intimidation factor is still very real, and if your star players are being picked on by an opponent’s goons, you’re going to want a player on the ice that can defend them. Tinordi doesn’t seem to mind being that guy.

Cons

Some have criticized Tinordi for his relatively slow lateral mobility. Speed plays a critical role in today’s game, and if Tinordi wants to have a long, successful career in the NHL, he’s going to have to work on his agility.

Tinordi has struggled with zone exits in the past, as well. In the 2013-14 season, No. 24 got a chance to play with the big club in March against the Columbus Blue Jackets. With the score tied 2-2, and under four minutes remaining in regulation, Tinordi was burned by Blue Jackets centre Ryan Johansen. With a weak pass up the boards, Johansen took advantage of the Canadiens’ young defenseman, stealing the puck and beating Carey Price in what would go on to be the game-winning goal.

‘That doesn’t feel good. It’s a stupid play on my part. I put it on my backhand, trying to go through the middle. Johansen’s a quick player. I should have anticipated he was going to be there.’

– Jarred Tinordi

Of course, young players are going to make mistakes and the coaching staff should temper their expectations as such. However, careless giveaways that can be avoided are simply not acceptable—especially considering Therrien’s ludicrously high standards with youngsters—and need to be limited as much as possible. One mental mistake can be extremely costly at this elite level.

Overall

Tinordi will never be an offensive defenseman. He simply does not possess the high-end puck skills and quickness needed to be a reliable point-producer. That’s something fans are going to have to wrap their minds around.

But the offensive game is not why Tinordi was drafted.

Tinordi’s grit and solid defensive game would make him an immediate upgrade from former Montreal Canadiens defenseman Douglas Murray, who was let go in the offseason. Tinordi is young and capable of playing 20-plus minutes a game. The dependable stay-at-home defenseman instills fear in opponents every time they dump the puck into Montreal’s zone and is effective at clearing traffic from Carey Price’s crease; making the star goaltender’s job a lot easier. Tinordi is also an impressive shot-blocker who can help kill off an untimely penalty.

If and when the Habs decide to rest defensive specialist Mike Weaver during the 82-game regular season, Tinordi would make an excellent replacement; even as a seventh defenseman.

Nathan Beaulieu

Pros

Drafted 17th overall in the 2011 NHL Entry Draft, Beaulieu possesses a remarkable two-way game with a high offensive ceiling.

He truly is an advanced-hockey-statistic guru’s dream. Not only does Beaulieu have an outstanding hockey I.Q., but with his smooth-skating ability and quick defensive zone exits, he’s able to dominate offensive zone time and drive puck possession. Some have even gone as far as to compare Beaulieu to P.K. Subban in that he possesses a similar skill set—his shot, skating and natural scoring ability—to the 2013 Norris Trophy winner.

Like Subban, Beaulieu is more than capable of quarterbacking the power play. With a cannon of a slap shot and sound playmaking, the 21-year-old Ontario native can help turn a powerless power play into one of the most dangerous in the league. Montreal’s power play ranked 19th last season, so some help from the blue line would definitely give the man advantage a much-needed boost. It would also ease some of the pressure off Subban, who is basically the driving force behind the Habs’ power play.

In addition, Beaulieu seems very comfortable playing with the big boys. When he was thrown into the fire in Game 6 against the Bruins last season, the young defenseman embraced the moment. He stayed calm, made smart hockey plays and limited his mistakes. Beaulieu accumulated an impressive two assists and plus-three rating in seven playoff games.

Cons

Many critics say Beaulieu does not have the grit needed to compete at an elite level. His lack of size and physicality become glaring disadvantages when his team is hemmed in the defensive zone. It’s not often opponents are able to dominate possession with Beaulieu on the ice, but when they do, it can turn ugly.

Similar to Subban, Beaulieu also gets caught from time-to-time being too aggressive in the offensive zone, leading to odd-man rushes and scoring chances for the opposition. This is something Beaulieu will have to cut down if he wants to stay up with the big club long-term.

Despite amassing decent offensive stats with the Bulldogs, Beaulieu’s even-strength data in Hamilton has not been good. Defense first is a concept Beaulieu must continue to develop as his young career progresses. His game is improving, but it’s not quite there yet.

Overall

Beaulieu is a high-risk, high-reward player. His tremendous two-way game is an asset the Canadiens could definitely use at the back-end and, like Tinordi, he’s a candidate to log plenty of minutes throughout the marathon regular season schedule.

The sky is the limit for this young man’s potential. He has the makings of a future star defenseman and could be an important player for the Habs for a long time. Whether that begins this year remains to be seen.

If there’s one thing working against Beaulieu at the moment, it’s that Montreal already has two mobile, big-minute defensemen in Tom Gilbert and P.K. Subban. That’s not to say Beaulieu can’t be useful at some point, but he would be contending for a regular roster spot with two locks to start the season. It could be detrimental to Beaulieu’s development to have him sitting in the press box for half the season instead of playing in Hamilton.

Verdict

It’s a tough call as both Tinordi and Beaulieu have very different skill sets and strong cases can be made for both players.

If only one could be chosen, Tinordi would be the choice that makes the most sense. There’s a more pressing need for physicality on the back-end than there is for an offensive defenseman, and Tinordi would effectively fill that void.

Regardless of how the roster pans out at the end of training camp, there’s no question both these players will play a big part in the Canadiens’ long-term plans; only time will tell when Tinordi and Beaulieu put on the ‘CH’ jersey for good.