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Anthony Beauvillier: You Don't Know Beau

Islanders Longread: Anthony Beauvillier on hockey, family and adjusting to life in the NHL

by Cory Wright WrightsWay / New York Islanders

There's an eight-inch height gap between Anthony Beauvillier and Tampa Bay's Andrej Sustr, but that didn't stop the 5-foot-11 Islanders forward from throwing a hit on the towering 6-foot-7 defenseman on Beauvillier's first shift of the game on Nov. 1. The Islanders first-round pick in 2015 (28th overall) hasn't gone full "find the biggest guy in the yard and fight him," but the 19-year-old has already shown that he does not shy away from physical play. 

"He's come in right away and he's established himself with his grit, his desperation and his determina-tion," head coach Jack Capuano said. "He's been, not a surprise, but a guy for us that we thought he could do it right off the bat."

That grittiness isn't a recent development in Beauvillier's game, or a show for the coaches. His fight on the ice is deeply ingrained in the skilled teenager, tracing all the way back to his childhood in Sorel-Tracy, Quebec and the influence of his older brother, Francis. 

The classic older brother, younger brother dynamic was evident early on; Anthony looked up to Francis, Francis picked on his little brother, and the two were engaged in constant competition, from video games to street hockey. Today, Francis is 6-2, 200 lbs. to Anthony's 5-11, 170 lbs. meaning Anthony's been fighting against bigger, older opponents for his entire life. 

"I was the older brother, so I was going to go not too hard on him, but he was going pretty hard on me," Francis Beauvillier said. "So I guess it paid off in the end." 

The Beauvillier brothers, though ultra-competitive when they were younger, have grown extremely close and supportive now that they're older. Anthony said his brother, who was a 2012 sixth-round pick by the Florida Panthers, has always been his role model. 

"He's the reason why I'm playing hockey," Anthony Beauvillier said. "I always wanted to do what he was doing so when I saw him playing hockey, I wanted to start playing hockey. He's still a model for me now. I've always wanted to do what he was doing, so before my games, I watched a lot of his games and learned a lot from him."

Their hockey paths crossed briefly in in Shawinigan in 2013-14, Francis' last year in junior and Anthony's first. It gave Francis a chance to watch his brother work every day on his path to the NHL. Francis gave his brother the odd reminder to stay on track, but could see his little brother was already going in the right direction. 

Now the brothers talk nearly every day, but Francis doesn't want to overburden Anthony with too much hockey-talk or advice. 

"He sometimes just needs to talk about everything else except hockey," Francis said. "I just tell him to keep pushing, you're there, be confident, you have the skills to be there, just work hard and everything is going to go your way."

As young as atom (aged 9-11 in Quebec), Anthony used Francis' goals and assists totals as benchmarks, with Anthony determined to surpass his big brother. When Francis was drafted third overall in the QMJHL, he thought he had set the bar too high for Anthony; until his brother was drafted second. 

Francis has never begrudged his brother's success. In fact, he's Anthony's biggest fan, following the games from New Brunswick, where he's playing for the UNB Varsity Reds, completing his business de-gree. He was in the crowd with their parents for Anthony's first game at Madison Square Garden, and just seeing his brother on the ice in an NHL jersey made him swell up with emotion and pride.

"I saw my brother in warmups and I almost cried," Francis said. "I was like, 'he made it.' "

As emotional as that first game was for the Beauvillier family, beneath the stands, Anthony has his own set of heart palpitations to deal with. 

On one hand, it's just like any other hockey game, 200' by 85', two nets, goalies, glass, icings, offsides and all. But this is Madison Square Garden, not Shawinigan; with 18,000 hostile fans in the crowd, the lights are brighter and win or lose, the highlights are ending up across hockey media. And those aren't a bunch of 16- to 20-year-old kids at the other end. They're full-grown men, including some of pro hockey's brightest stars like Henrik Lundqvist. It's also the Islanders' most heated rival in a season opener. 

The nerves manifest in his legs as he steps out for warmups. 

"I had a hard time skating a little bit at the beginning, just to feel my edge, but after that I felt good," Beauvillier said. "I was nervous about that game, but just having my family around - I saw them in the warm-up - I was pretty happy."

It took Beauvillier a period or so to get his bearings, but the nerves passed and he finished his first NHL game with an assist. Since then, Beauvillier has played in 11 more games, scored his first NHL goal, played against the Montreal Canadiens - do not underestimate what that means for a Quebec kid - and enjoyed the off-ice perks of being in the NHL, but that first game still stands above it all.

"That first game was really special, being at MSG, having my family there," Beauvillier said. "The first goal was pretty special too, but the first game is just something else."

October 18 - Islanders locker room at Barclays Center

A horde of media forms a semi-circle and focuses in on Anthony Beauvillier. There are around 20 people, several TV cameras with bright white lights mounted on top and a lot of outstretched arms pressing up their iPhones and voice recorders. Like a school of fish, they all face one direction, while Beauvillier, up against the wall, faces back. 

The topic late this evening is his first career NHL goal, which he scored in a 3-2 loss to the San Jose Sharks. He was persistent in his pursuit for his first pro goal, following up on his own rebounds, first off of a defenseman's shin pads, then off goalie Aaron Dell's pads, getting just enough on it to float over the goalie, who helped it in while flailing back to grab it. It's the same pesky play that earned the 2015 first-round pick his nine-game audition with the Islanders. It's gotten him this far, no sense in changing it up now. 

Video: SJS@NYI: Beauvillier battles for first NHL goal

It's an exciting night for Beauvillier, who seems far more reserved and in control than most 19-year-olds - let alone 19-year-olds playing in the NHL, literally on the cusp of solidifying fame and fortune. The only time he really breaks character is when he celebrates, sort of dropping to one knee and yelling.

Even the media scrum should be overwhelming. Not only are there 20 people and TV cameras around him, the interviews are all in English. While he can speak fluently, his first language is French. 

Stan Fischler, the 84-year-old MSG reporter and elder statesman, has the floor and asks Beauvillier what he's going to do with the puck. Beauvillier's mind is still on the game. 

"Just try to not turn it over and make the simple play," he said. 

"No, no, what are you going to do? Are you going to take the puck and put it on your mantelpiece?" Fischler replies. 

Beauvillier apologizes. 

"You've got to give me a break, I'm a French guy."

Beauvillier's adjusting to his new surroundings and the daily media requirements in the NHL. He's in demand, especially in the days leading up to his first game against the Montreal Canadiens, though there's some relief in getting to do interviews "en francais."

Beauvillier doesn't seek out the extra attention and isn't getting caught up in it. 

"I just try to focus on the things that I can control," Beauvillier said. "Just something you have to do if you want to have success. Don't think too much, just enjoy the moment. Don't think too much. This is a dream for me."

Those close to Beauvillier say he's a funny kid. He and Mathew Barzal horse around courtside at the Nets game on an Islanders' off night until Shane Prince intervenes. His brother said he's a loose kid, who likes to clown around, but knows how to flip the switch come game time. Veterans on the team say he's quiet and respectful, two good qualities for a rookie and the coaching staff likes that he's coming to the rink every day with a purpose. 

"He seems like a real sponge, a student of the game he kind of walks around and doesn't say much, but he takes it all in and like I said his work ethic," Assistant GM and Assistant Coach Doug Weight said. "He wants to learn, when you talk to him he looks right at you, he wants to learn, he wants to get better."

The Islanders had nine games to decide whether or not they wanted to keep Beauvillier or send him back to junior. That period is crucial for management to gauge how he plays in all sorts of situations, against fast teams, heavy teams, with rest and in busier stretches. Once he played his 10th game, which he did on Nov. 5 against Edmonton, he triggered the first year of his contract. Judging by his closet at the Long Island Marriott, he wasn't necessarily anticipating playing in that 10th game. 

"I only brought one suit," he said after practice on Halloween. "I didn't expect to be here that long. That's the first thing I'm going to buy."

Rookies reported on Sept. 15, so he's been here for nearly two months with one suit. Now it looks like he's likely here to stay through at least half the season. A trip to the tailor is in order. 

"He's played well, but if you talk to him and ask him, I think the game has slowed down for him now," Capuano said. "I think the first couple of games and the first shift everything is happening so fast and I think the way he's playing now mentally, he's at a pace and he sees the game differently."

"With a lot of young players is the consistency and can they maintain that. We're hoping that he can."

Making it past 10 games is obviously significant for Beauvillier, who left an impression with his defensive-awareness and ability to switch to the wing and on any line, but it's also significant for the Islanders. While the NHL is increasingly getting younger, the Islanders haven't had a player this young make the team out of camp - and stick past nine games - since 2011. 

"We have to be truthful to ourselves and the way we're making these guys grow as players,"
Weight said. "We just felt like his upside and his strength is going to be able to maintain throughout the year."

Twelve games in, the Islanders just want Beauvillier to keep on his trajectory. He's taken to the wing, but they don't want him to stray from his good defensive play learned as a center. It was of course the unsexy plays like intercepting neutral zone passes, his back checking and his take-on-the-giants type play that got him noticed. 

"Just play the same way," Capuano said on the morning of Beauvillier's 10th game. "He's played extremely well for us all season as a young player. He's done a great job and continue to play with pace and continue to do the things he's done since training camp to earn a spot on our roster."

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