MONTREAL – Nathan Beaulieu will be looking to earn a little more action when training camp kicks off in September.
Four years after being nabbed in the first round at the 2011 NHL Entry Draft, Nathan Beaulieu has earned a permanent spot in the Canadiens dressing room. Having spent parts of the last three seasons trekking back and forth between Montreal and Hamilton, the 22-year-old blue-liner has finally left the AHL in the rearview mirror and is now focused on making his mark with the big club.
“It took a lot of patience. It was a journey. I had to play a little time in the American League and I had to grow aspects of my game. It was a process and I feel like now I’ve grown into an NHL player,” shared Beaulieu via conference call from his home in London, ON, after inking a two-year deal with the Canadiens. “The biggest thing I learned is the focus you have to have, shift in and shift out. Every time you step on the ice, you have to be prepared and you have to be on your game. You can’t get away with having a lackadaisical shift.
“It was just about maturing and focusing and understanding it’s a process,” he continued. “Now that I feel like I’ve established myself as an NHL player, it’s time to take a big step forward in my NHL career.”
The pending restricted free agent wasted little time putting pen to paper when Habs general manager Marc Bergevin called to discuss contract details. Coming off a year that saw him score his first career NHL goal while averaging 15:41 in ice time per game, Beaulieu jumped at the chance to continue building on the foundation he and his teammates established during their 50-win 2014-15 campaign.
“I wanted to be a Canadien and I wanted to stay here. There’s no other place I want to be,” he stressed. “We have that burning desire to win. We had a special team [last year] and we still do. The great thing about us is we’re young, and we’re only going to get better from what we learned in the past. I’m very excited to move forward with this group.”
After becoming the first of the team’s RFAs to sign on the dotted line this summer, Beaulieu is treating his two-year deal as a new beginning in his life as an NHLer. Eager to prove he’s ready for additional responsibilities and a heavier workload in his fourth pro season, the speedy rearguard plans on celebrating his big news by hitting the gym harder than ever.
“For next season, I want to play a bigger role on the team. With that, you want to be in the best shape you can,” mentioned Beaulieu, who had a plus-6 differential through 64 regular season games this year. “The reason I was brought into this organization was to bring offense from the back end, but this year I learned a lot on the defensive side.
“And I have a great guy to learn from in Andrei Markov,” he added of the veteran pivot, who finished second on the team in power play minutes per game behind P.K. Subban, with 3:14. “You just have to wait for your opportunities, and I know eventually I’m going to be a power play guy, but you have to earn it. It doesn’t just get given to you. I want to prove I can play big minutes and be a Top 4 guy who can help the team win. I’m ready to take on responsibilities and earn that spot.”Shauna Denis is a writer for canadiens.com.SEE ALSOTwo-year contract for Nathan Beaulieu Conference call audioHighlightsHab at Heart: Patrick Côté Adapting to change Doing things differently P.K. Subban surprises a street hockey game Showing his true colors