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Busy times for Beaulieu

by Michael Stainkamp
For Nathan Beaulieu, there is no offseason.

The days of soaking up the summer sun and enjoying time away from school are a thing of the past for defenseman Nathan Beaulieu as he prepares for the upcoming season with the QMJHL's Saint John Sea Dogs.

According to NHL Central Scouting, Beaulieu is the top-ranked player eligible for the 2011 Entry Draft, and he's working hard to stay there. He said he has spent five to six days a week this summer in the gym. And when he's not working out, he's skating or watching video, doing anything he can to improve his game for the upcoming season, because he knows it's the biggest season of his life.

"I'm at a point in my career where I'm taking it very seriously," he said.

As a 16-year-old last season, Beaulieu ended the 2009-10 regular season with a plus-43 rating, the highest mark for a defenseman in Sea Dogs history. He also became close friends with teammate Simon Despres, a 2009 first-round pick of the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Beaulieu and Despres both were at the Hockey Canada National Junior Team Development Camp that was held in St. John's, Nfld., last week.

At 17, Beaulieu was the youngest defenseman in the camp. He wasn't originally invited, but got a last-minute invite, along with Brock Beukeboom and Joey Hishon, after Jared Cowen, Ryan Ellis and Taylor Hall were late scratches.

Not being invited originally gave Beaulieu more motivation to prove he belonged.

"It did (make me play harder), but I also had to remember I was the youngest kid at camp. I'm only 17 years old. I was very happy to be there," Beaulieu said. "After settling down and getting into practices, I told myself, 'I really want to make this team.' At first I was just really happy to be invited and I was honored, but once I was in there I was motivated and I really want to make the team."

Despres helped Beaulieu get acquainted with the new surroundings and played an important role for the 17-year-old throughout the camp.

"He didn't know anyone here, so I'm helping him out here," Despres said. "I told him to enjoy being here and be confident and just play your game."

Coming off a solid season in which he had 12 goals and 45 points and helped the Sea Dogs reach the QMJHL final, Beaulieu has high expectations for the team and himself in 2010-11.

"As a defenseman, I'd like to have a point per game," he said. "I'd like to be invited to the winter camp for the World Juniors and I want to play in the (CHL/NHL) Top Prospects Game."

With all this work ahead of him, Beaulieu still finds time to relax and take a day off here and there.

"I have weekends here with my buddies," he said. "We like to go out on the boat and hang out."

His time to hang out only will last so long as he has been selected to participate in the National Hockey League's Research, Development and Orientation Camp, Aug. 18-19. And then it's back to Saint John for a season that could shape his hockey future.

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