Nathan Beaulieu was projected by many to go somewhere in the top 10 or just on the immediate outskirts. The Montreal Canadiens are happy he didn’t.
The Saint John Sea Dogs defenceman was still on the board when the Canadiens took to the stage for the 17th overall pick, leaving an opportunity they couldn’t pass up. And they didn’t, adding to their backend in the first round for a second straight draft year.
“Mr. Beaulieu is an excellent player. He’s a complete defenceman and an excellent skater,” General Manager Pierre Gauthier said. “He was on the All-Star team at the Memorial Cup. We’re very happy to have gotten him but it’s not a surprise for us (that he was available) because it was a very good draft at No. 17.”
It was apparently so good in the team’s eyes that not even numerous last-minute offers of swapping draft picks – maybe even to get the Canadiens a second-round pick – could sway Gauthier and his staff. “We didn’t want to let this guy go,” the GM told TSN’s James Duthie.
Beaulieu, who was ranked fifth among North American skaters by NHL Central Scouting, admitted to nerves as teams went up and he remained. But then it was the Canadiens who handed him a jersey and cap, and he couldn’t have been happier.
“My dad is French-Canadian and I know he’s pretty excited right now. Not as much as me, though,” Beaulieu said. “Having a French last name and going to Montreal is pretty cool. I can’t believe it. It’s an exceptional honour and I can’t wait to get it going.”
His father is Jacques Beaulieu, the Franco-Ontarian head coach and GM of the OHL’s Sarnia Sting. The blue-liner grew up speaking English at home but with his family heritage and his future NHL team, he plans on brushing up on his French.
The Canadiens add a smooth skating, puck-moving defenceman in Beaulieu. The Strathroy, Ontario native put up 45 points (12 goals, 33 assists) in 65 games with the Memorial Cup champion Sea Dogs this past season and added another 20 in 24 playoff games (Memorial Cup included).
His skills have been likened to those of P.K. Subban, a comparison he admits is “exceptionally (flattering). P.K. could have won rookie of the year this year, that’s how good he is.” It’s those abilities that he feels make him a perfect fit with the Canadiens.
“They’re a puck-moving club and Saint John was like that this year so I think that helps a lot. They’ve got so many D back there that can move the puck quickly so I’m very excited and looking forward to the challenges ahead,” he said.
Beaulieu knows he needs to bulk up his 6-foot-2, 174-pound frame and get stronger. In all likelihood, he’ll return to the Sea Dogs for another season. Yet while that might be the eventual case, he’s got a different plan.
“You gotta shoot for the stars and being drafted and going to the camp, I’ve got high expectations,” Beaulieu affirmed. “My goal is to make that hockey club and if not, I’m going to go back to Saint John and prepare to have another good season.”
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