Francis Beauvillier never imagined he would have to take such an eventful detour to reach his lifelong goal.
The speedy forward had two seasons under his belt in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, and his year of draft eligibility was looming.
But last May, the Lewiston Maineiacs, Beauvillier's team for the entirety of his junior hockey career, abruptly folded, forcing the league to dissolve the franchise's roster. Suddenly, the system and coaching staff Beauvillier was accustomed to no longer existed, leaving his future up to a two-round dispersal draft which took place later that week.
Speedy forward Francis Beauvillier had to overcome his junior team folding to start over with a new club, but his breakthrough season with the Rimouski Oceanic proved well worth it. (Photo: Getty Images)
Fortunately for Beauvillier, the Rimouski Oceanic -- a franchise with a history of churning out top-tier NHL prospects -- chose him with the seventh pick in the first round.
"It was difficult for me at Lewiston with my confidence, but when I came to Rimouski, the staff helped me try to get back on the right track with my mentality," Beauvillier told NHL.com. "It made a big difference in [my performance] this season. I matured as a person and as a hockey player, too."
The Sorel-Tracy, Quebec native took advantage of his fresh start with the Oceanic, scoring as many goals this season as he did in his first two QMJHL campaigns combined (23) and totaling the most penalty minutes of his career (75) in a career-high 67 games played.
His improvement enabled him to leap six spots over the course of the season to No. 56 in Central Scouting's final ranking of North American skaters for the 2012 NHL Draft, to be held June 22-23 at Consol Energy Center in Pittsburgh.
"[Beauvillier] is making strides in a number of areas, which is exactly what you want to see from a player moving through the junior leagues," Central Scouting's Chris Edwards told NHL.com. "He has great playmaking ability and can get the puck to the good scoring areas. He was used in much more late-game situations this season, which shows his coaching staff has the confidence in him."
Beauvillier's regular-season prowess put him in position to be drafted, but it was his display during Rimouski's unlikely run to the QMJHL President's Cup that was the icing on the cake. The Oceanic had the seventh-best point total entering the playoffs, but they made it all the way to the final round to meet the defending Memorial Cup champion Saint John Sea Dogs.
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Despite an eventual series sweep by the Sea Dogs, Rimouski's unlikely run to the championship series saw Beauvillier and his teammates come together to play their best hockey of the season. After not scoring a point in three games for Lewiston in the 2011 postseason, Beauvillier had five goals, four assists, a plus-4 rating and 31 PIM in 21 playoff games.
"When I came to the Oceanic, the team was not expected to finish where it did, playing for the President's Cup," Beauvillier said. "As an 18-year-old, I was one of the leaders of the team. We knew we had to give everything we had to get that Cup. Even if we didn't get it, we wanted to give everything we had, and that's why this was such a great experience."
Those leadership qualities displayed by Beauvillier, who had a goal and an assist in the four-game President's Cup series, gave scouts a clearer sense of his potential as an NHL prospect. Though Beauvillier is outside the top 50 among North American skaters, Edwards said he believes some cases require teams to read between the lines.
"When you see a guy perform in the playoffs and contribute, it's something that certainly goes into a [drafting] decision," Edwards said. "How many times have we seen guys go the other way, disappearing in big games? [Beauvillier's playoff performance] is a great sign, that's for sure."
Rimouski's rigorous system paid dividends for Beauvillier as it had for some of the NHL's most prominent players who spent time with the Oceanic. The 6-foot-1, 185-pound player said the franchise has a strict blueprint for developing players under general manager Philippe Boucher and assistant coach Donald Dufresne.
After the roller-coaster ride that was his career with Lewiston, Beauvillier is just thankful for the opportunity to play for a club with the tradition and prospect outlook of the Oceanic.
"When you see the pictures around of the former captains -- Sidney Crosby, Brad Richards, Vincent Lecavalier -- you see that these guys came from here and went on to win the Stanley Cup and it helps you mentally, for sure," Beauvillier said. "Boucher and Dufresne both played in the NHL as well, so they know what to expect. The coaching staff is intense, but they know how to keep us playing hockey as a group and how to give us the tools to be successful and reach our dreams."
WEAR WHAT THE DRAFTEES WEAR
Beauvillier's ability to accept the challenge of blending into a new system has him on the cusp of achieving his dream of being drafted into the NHL. It's a vision he's had since watching his father, Sylvain, play in a Quebec night hockey league. Though his coaches throughout his career have developed him into the player he is, Beauvillier said there has not been a more influential figure in his life than the man who introduced him to the game.
"My dad helped me a lot to be a hockey player by pushing me to continue my dreams while I was growing up," Beauvillier told NHL.com. "He always comes to Rimouski to watch me play hockey. He pushes me -- not in the wrong way -- but by saying that my dream is coming. He tells me to keep my head up and continue to work on all areas of my game."
With the draft in Pittsburgh, Beauvillier can't help but think of the countless times he spent imitating Mario Lemieux's technique as a child. He didn't have much interest in being a superstar or having the publicity that goes along with it, he just wanted to play hockey for a living.
Now, having his wish granted would be the most humbling moment of his career.
"It's always been a dream for me, since I was young, to be a part of an NHL team," Beauvillier said. "It's a feeling I can't explain. I'm very lucky to be a part of this."