Nathan Beaulieu is an example of how draft-eligible players are still learning and improving, often making dramatic strides mid-season.
The defenseman for the Memorial Cup champion Saint John Sea Dogs of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League entered the campaign with a high profile, but a slow start temporarily tempered expectations.
“By his own admission, he was trying to do too much early on,” said Hurricanes Director of Amateur Scouting Tony MacDonald. “To use his words, he was trying to get drafted in 20 games.”
After notching just 1 assist in the season’s first eight contests, a number below par for the offensive-minded defenseman, Beaulieu would eventually finish with a healthy 45 points (12g, 33a) over the course of his 65-game regular season. He produced at an even greater clip in the playoffs, scoring 17 points (4g, 13a) in 19 games, including 8 in a first-round sweep of Cape Breton.
“He all of the sudden realized that he had to reign it in and start changing his approach a little bit to not try and do too much,” said MacDonald. “That helped him and he got it on track.”
In its final rankings, the NHL’s Central Scouting Service had Beaulieu ranked as the second-highest North American defenseman behind Dougie Hamilton, who will probably not be available by the time the Hurricanes pick at No. 12. Beaulieu should be right in that mix, as he’s one of as many as four Saint John players who could be drafted in the first round. Five more teammates appear throughout the extended rankings.
As is the case with draft-eligible colleague Sven Bartschi
, NHL teams will consider the extent to which a player contributed to or is a product of his team’s success. The Hurricanes believe Beaulieu, the Sea Dogs’ top-scoring blue liner, was a significant factor in his team’s excellent season and like the experience he gained along the way.
“When you’re part of a national championship team – it’s very difficult and it’s a long, grueling road to win,” said MacDonald. “You have to eliminate a lot of teams and endure the physical grind of playing all those games in a short period of time. It takes a toll on you but it also makes you mentally tough and stronger.”
Though regarded as more of a scorer in junior, the Hurricanes believe Beaulieu, who boasted a plus-44 plus/minus rating during the regular season, will develop into an all-around contributor once he fills out his 6-foot-2, 185-pound frame made slighter by a recent growth spurt.
“With his skating ability and first-pass ability, with today’s game he projects a solid, two-way defenseman,” said Jason Karmanos, the Hurricanes’ vice president and assistant general manager. “He’s got the tools to make it work, but he’s still got a ways to improve on the defensive side. He’s still in the stage where he’s got some development time before he’s ready for the NHL.”
In addition to his skills, the Hurricanes are also encouraged by Beaulieu’s background. His father Jacques coached him during his rookie season with Saint John in 2008-09 before moving on to become an assistant with London of the Ontario Hockey League.
“He’s a kid that’s been around hockey all his life and it’s rubbed off on him,” said Karmanos. “He seems to love the game and has a good feel for how hard he needs to work to get to the next level.”