FEATURE: Beaudin evolved his game with help from his mentors
Nicolas Beaudin's passion for the game started at a young age and with the help of some mentors, he evolved into a first-round pick and high-end NHL prospectby Chris Wescott / chicagoblackhawks.com
On a road trip early in the 2017-18 season, then Drummondville Head Coach Dominique Ducharme asked Nicolas Beaudin to come sit and talk with him.
Beaudin had been playing just fine. This wasn't punishment, it was a growth opportunity.
Video: One-on-one: Nicolas Beaudin
The young defenseman had just come off a 41-point season for the Voltigeurs and he was clearly on the right path to the NHL, becoming a leader for his junior team along the way. Beaudin's offensive talents jumped off the ice, but Ducharme knew his player could accomplish so much more.
"I remember (that meeting), for sure," said Ducharme, who stressed to Beaudin the importance of the defensive side of his game. The coach also stressed adding more intensity and more urgency in his play.
"At the start of the year I thought maybe I was just an offensive defenseman," said Beaudin. "But (Ducharme) pulled me into his office and told me if I want to play pro, if I want to play in the NHL, I have to be a two-way defenseman.
"From that point on, I took as much pride defensively as I took offensively… From that point and that meeting with him, my season turned around."
Beaudin finished 2017-18 with 12 goals and 57 assists in 68 games. More importantly, his offensive numbers were now paired with engaged and effective defensive play. As a result, and by design, Beaudin had the puck even more due to his intensity away from it.
"More involved, more urgency," said Ducharme.
It was clear that Beaudin had taken his coach's advice to heart.
"He's got good character, he's a guy who likes to be challenged," said the coach, who now works as an assistant with the Montreal Canadiens.
That kind of attitude and thirst for self improvement was developed with the help of his original mentor, his father.
Stephane Beaudin, who coached minor hockey in Quebec for a long time, knows the game enough to see the switch in his son.
"Defensively, yes (there was improvement), but also physically he was more assertive," said Stephane, who is in Chicago to watch his son at the Blackhawks Development Camp.
Stephane knew his son had a passion for hockey at a very young age.
"We would watch hockey a lot together," he said.
"When I was a kid, he was my coach in minor hockey so he was pushing me a lot just to be good with skills, some shooting and skating. He was pushing me hard," said Beaudin, who appreciates his father's help.
"The way he approaches the game, you can see he's coming from a hockey family," said Ducharme. "For sure, he's a guy that pushes himself all the time. He wants to get better and he wants to be the best guy on the ice."
While it appears that Stephane certainly fed his son's appetite for the sport, Beaudin's success can still be attributed to his internal drive.
"Much more came from him," admitted Stephane. "It was his passion and him wanting to learn about hockey. Mostly, it was coming from him."
Video: Bowman on Jokiharju, Beaudin and Entwistle
Flash forward to June 2018 and Stephane watched his son put on the Chicago Blackhawks jersey with a big smile on his face.
"That was special, for sure," he said. "I think it's all fathers' dream to see their sons drafted. To get drafted then in the first round, it was amazing. I'm so happy for him because he worked a lot during all his youngest years. He went step by step. I think he was put aside sometimes, where I don't think he belonged there. But he fought against that and became a first-round pick in the NHL. It's incredible."
When the Blackhawks selected Beaudin 27th overall, they were taking the player who had evolved his game to become a more well-rounded prospect.
"Looking at his talents, he's got really good instincts in terms of how to defend and how to complement on offense," said Blackhawks Senior Vice President/General Manager Stan Bowman. "Really polished, smooth player. He makes it look pretty easy. He's not one of those guys who exerts a lot of energy but he's a very efficient defender."
Instincts and hockey IQ are Beaudin's greatest assets. They're characteristics the mentors in his life have seen on the ice time and time again.
"I think he's always going to have that offensive spark," said his father. "His IQ is very, very high. He sees the game and is one step ahead all the time. For an NHL player, that's a good thing."
"He's really good on transition," said Ducharme. "He can find guys attacking the neutral zone with speed. He can find guys where most of the defensemen won't see options. He sees them and finds them… His vision with the puck and the way he reads the play when he doesn't have it and when he's getting it, he's got a good player and he's got a great hockey sense."
Beaudin also appears to have a great sense of what will make him successful.
"When he was very young I asked him to play defense and he said yes," said Stephane. "He said, 'dad, when I play defense I can see everything, so it's easy for me to watch the game going on.'"
The ultimate evolution for Beaudin will be to watch the game unfold in front of him as a Blackhawk.