BROSSARD – The youngest defenseman to suit up for the Habs in four years is set to make his NHL debut on Saturday night.
After watching Bulldogs teammates Jarred Tinordi and Greg Pateryn get tapped one after the other for stints in Montreal, Nathan Beaulieu is finally getting the chance to make a first impression of his own. Spending his first AHL season complementing his offensive talents by developing stability in his defensive game, both the Habs organization and Beaulieu felt the time was right to see what he could do at hockey’s highest level.
“Playing in Hamilton this year, I knew that my defensive game and my maturity on the ice had to be a bit stronger. The beginning of the season was a bit of a learning curve for me, but I feel that I made a lot of progression and I’m really happy to be here,” shared Beaulieu, who boasted 152 points in 213 games in the Juniors before making the jump to the AHL. “I’ve learned that you’ve got to be a pro. There are no bad teams and no bad players in professional hockey and you learn that right away. You’ve got to be aware of everything happening around you every time you’re on the ice.”
At 20-years-and-115-days of age, the 6-foot-1, 182 pound rearguard will be the youngest blue liner to don a Canadiens jersey since Yannick Weber hit the ice on January 8, 2009 when he was only 20-years-and-107-days-old. While he might be the least experienced defenseman in action for Saturday’s tilt against the Rangers, maturity will be the name of the game when Beaulieu hits the ice for his first NHL shift.
“I’ve got to keep things real simple. I’m a defenseman, but being an offensive guy I’ve still got to worry about my own zone first. That’s what I’ll be worrying about first and foremost and I’ll go from there,” continued the Strathroy, ON native, who Michel Therrien confirmed Saturday morning should still expect a go-around with the man-advantage in his debut. “If I get the opportunity to play on the power play I’m going to try and make the most of it. They drafted me and expect me to be an offensive guy, a power play guy, so if I get the chance that’s what I’ll try to do.”
Now a pro at easing rookie defensemen into an NHL lineup, Beaulieu will be able to rely on having the steadying presence of Francis Bouillon at his side as the two are slated to be paired together when the Habs face John Tortorella’s Rangers
“It’s going to be another new situation tonight and it’ll be interesting to see what he can give us on the ice,” said Bouillon, who also found himself paired with Tinordi and Pateryn during their stints with the team. “I’ve heard nothing but good things about him from the AHL. He’s a very offensively-minded player and a guy that moves the puck well. He’ll have to make some adjustments but at the same time he’s very mobile so it’s always easy to play with someone like that.
“He seemed very calm this morning,” he added. “But it’s natural with a game coming up tonight to still be a bit nervous. I’m convinced that he’s going to go out there and do a great job.”
Other than a few former Bulldogs teammates, Beaulieu also got the chance to enjoy a reunion with his St. John Sea Dogs coach, Gerard Gallant, when he arrived in Montreal.
“It’s huge. He was my coach for three years in St. John and we had a lot of success together so I’m very fortunate to have a familiar face around. He’s been great and already talked with me a lot this morning,” said Beaulieu, who won the Memorial Cup with Gallant in 2010-11. “Not going in blind eases the nerves. He’s explained a lot about the systems and what to expect. He just told me to play my game.”
With 62 games of work put in with the Bulldogs in Hamilton, Beaulieu will look to prove that all those hours of effort were well spent when he takes to the Bell Centre ice on Saturday.
“Each day I just tried to get better, critique my own game and try to be the first guy on the ice and the last one off,” expressed Beaulieu. “I know the organization has a plan for me and that I had stuff to work on and so I used that as motivation and kept plugging away in the AHL.
“You wait your whole life for this kind of opportunity,” he added. “I couldn’t be more excited and I’m glad I get to share this with such a great organization."
Justin Fragapane is a writer for canadiens.com.
Words from the room: March 30, 2013
Full speed forward
Part of the process