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Ducks' Beauchemin garners notice for superb play

Friday, 03.08.2013 / 10:11 AM / Player Profiles

By Curtis Zupke - NHL.com Correspondent

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Ducks' Beauchemin garners notice for superb play
Among the NHL leaders in plus-minus and a stalwart on the Anaheim blue line, Francois Beauchemin has emerged as a Norris Trophy dark horse with a tremendous rebound season.

ANAHEIM -- Don't bother to bring up the Norris Trophy with Anaheim Ducks defenseman Francois Beauchemin -- or with his coach.

His general manager? Let's just say Bob Murray's temperature rose with the Southern California weather when he overheard pundits mention Beauchemin as a possible Norris candidate.

"We're not even halfway through the season," Murray told NHL.com. "I think it's totally ridiculous for anybody to talk about awards ... that irritates me to hell. It's not fair to the player."

Murray is pleased with Beauchemin's play but is more concerned with getting through a thick brick of scheduling that has his team playing 17 games in 31 days. But this much is clear in the early sample size: The dark horse Norris notion is because Beauchemin is playing the best hockey of his career.

Francois Beauchemin
Francois Beauchemin
Defense - ANA
GOALS: 2 | ASST: 11 | PTS: 13
SOG: 36 | +/-: 13
Through Wednesday, Beauchemin was among the NHL leaders with a plus-13 rating and is a big part of Anaheim's brilliant start. Playing a more dominant role, Beauchemin leads the Ducks in ice time and blocked shots. Awards aside, he accepts this is his best stretch yet.

"I agree," Beauchemin said. "I'm sure it comes down to team success, but I've been really comfortable, really confident making plays, getting power-play time, getting shots through. Most of the points I got was from the power play (eight). It's been clicking really good with all five guys knowing where to go."

Beauchemin's season is more impressive considering he came off surgery to repair a torn labrum and is playing the right side for the first time since juniors. Anaheim coach Bruce Boudreau put him there next to Sheldon Souray because he wanted Luca Sbisa on the left side (Ben Lovejoy is Anaheim's only right-handed defenseman).

Beauchemin and Souray have since become the closest thing Anaheim has had in the past few years to a true shutdown defensive pairing.

"Two veteran guys that like each other, that have taken the job that they've been given very seriously as the top-two defensive pairing, and they've ran with it," Boudreau said.

Boudreau inherited Beauchemin at just the right time when he was hired on Nov. 30, 2011. Beauchemin was on an uptick after what had been a disappointing second go-round with Anaheim and a forgettable stint with the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Former Anaheim coach Randy Carlyle said of Beauchemin in the 2011 preseason, "We didn't think he was anywhere near the player when we first got him back here. He didn't seem to have confidence with the puck. He was very, very rigid. What we've asked him to do is restart, refigure his mind to the point where when he gets the puck, we want him to skate with it and to move, not just slap it around."

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Neither Beauchemin nor the Ducks initially got it turned around. A 6-13-4 start cost Carlyle his job. Beauchemin carried a minus-7 rating when the firing was announced following a win over the Montreal Canadiens.

Beauchemin said of his return to Anaheim, "That was mostly from struggling in Toronto. We didn't really have a good team. We struggled for a year-and-a-half. Just having to come back here and changing the system and the players you play with and all that, just knowing what you have to do on the ice. It's just little things like that make a big difference.

"It's just hard sometimes when you leave a team that's been solid for a few years and you go there. It's hard between the ears just to say, 'All right, you've got to battle through it every night.' Sometimes you want to win so bad that you try to do much, and by doing that you're not doing as good. You're kind of hurting yourself more than you help."

Beauchemin played with Scott Niedermayer during the Ducks' 2007 Stanley Cup run and forged a role with his big shot and wide-hip physicality. The symmetry fused neatly.

"Playing with Scotty, you wanted Beauch to be seen and not heard," said Murray, who as assistant GM in 2005 suggested to former GM Burke they land Beauchemin in a trade with the Columbus Blue Jackets. "That's some defensemen. You don't want to notice them ... you didn't want to see or hear him at all every night, you just wanted the same thing over and over, because Scotty was a rover.

"This [season] is different. He's a horse for the minutes he can eat and he's a competitor. This time he's given it to us in a different way."

That way is largely defined by Beauchemin's willingness to deflect rubber. He was third in the NHL with 194 blocked shots last season. In a Feb. 25 game against the Los Angeles Kings, Beauchemin practically saved a goal when he lay down directly in front of goalie Viktor Fasth to block Anze Kopitar's shot from the slot.

Yes, Beauchemin has worn the same shin pads the past two years.

"I haven't broken them yet," he said.

Beauchemin's shoulder was fully healed by September, but he declined to play overseas during the lockout, not so much for the extra rest but because he could spend time with his wife, Marie-Claude, and three young children. They went back to his hometown on the southeast side of Montreal for the holidays.

"We spent two weeks there," he said. "Played in the snow -- that was the first time for the kids. Pretty exciting."

Beauchemin shrugs off the Norris talk, as does Boudreau. The blueliner doesn't play in an East Coast or Canadian market, and his case needs to be bolstered by more offense. And, of course, it has been 20-some games. Perhaps Sbisa summed up his impact best.

"It's good to see a guy like him getting rewarded," Sbisa said. "He's put in a lot of time in this League, and finally he made that jump to be an elite defenseman in this League. For the younger guys like me and Cam [Fowler], he's one we can look up to because every night it seems like he plays up to standards. You rarely see him having an off night; when he does, he responds well the next day. He's not flashy out there, just super consistent."

Quote of the Day

What we expected is what we got. Very mature young individual that's focused. He is on the right track. He's not only a great hockey individual, but he's a good person off the ice. He seemed to take a leadership role with this group right off the hop and ran away with it, and was vocal, was respectful, was everything it takes to be a Panther. His future looks bright.

— Florida Panthers director of player development Brian Skrudland on defenseman Aaron Ekblad's performance at development camp