Nathan Beaulieu

Looking to make the leap: Nathan Beaulieu


The Montreal Canadiens made some huge investments in re-signing defensemen P.K. Subban and Andrei Markov while arguably rolling the dice by parting ways with noteworthy names like Josh Gorges. While those alterations make an argument that Subban and Markov will shoulder a lot of pressure, there’s also another consideration: the Habs are opening the door for young defensemen to take the next step.

The first name that comes to mind is Nathan Beaulieu, the main focus of this post.

The 21-year-old may just represent something of a conundrum for the Canadiens going forward: will the team trust blue chips such as himself or will Michel Therrien & Co. lean too much toward veterans who may bring more name recognition than production? Beaulieu bounced back and forth between the AHL and NHL last season, but a Habs Eyes on the Prize review makes a strong argument that he should be a fixture with the big club in 2014-15:

Even once the playoffs had begun, it took an elimination situation in the Boston series for Michel Therrien to insert the puck-moving defencemen in the lineup. Beaulieu made an immediate impact, as the difference between he and Douglas Murray turned out to be a game-changer. Montreal would go on to win the series in seven games, partially thanks to Beaulieu’s ability to carry the puck, quick zone clears and crisp passes.

Beaulieu’s skills seems befitting of a first-rounder (17th overall in 2011), leading that same discussion to turn to an interesting thought: he might just be an ideal running mate for P.K. Subban.

(Talk about making the leap.)

As promising as he seems, it’s difficult to totally separate discussion of Beaulieu with the Habs other up-and-coming first-rounder (in this case, 22nd overall in 2010), Jarred Tinordi. While their styles vary, the early word on both is that they could fit right into the Montreal mix last season.

For the sake of comparison, that same great Habs blog provided a guardedly optimistic reading on his work:

Given fairly easy minutes, Tinordi crushed possession last year, especially while the game was close, the second straight year he’s shown himself to be a pretty dominant possession player in soft minutes. With that said, he didn’t have a great goal differential due to a fairly poor PDO. Some of that can definitely be chocked up to poor luck on both sides of the puck, but the fact is that Tinordi is still bleeding scoring chances against at a significant rate. The good thing is, that will change as he polishes his game and adjusts to the NHL.

It’s plausible that these two might need to out-duel each other to make a leap next season, yet there’s also a decent argument that they have the tools to round out what could be a sneaky-good set of defensemen in Montreal.

As with just about any blueliners, there will be mistakes, so the other big factor is whether or not Therrien will roll with their growing pains.

Oilers go captain-less, name four alternates instead

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Edmonton’s made a fairly significant shift in its leadership group.

The big news is the Oilers won’t have a captain this season, as Andrew Ference will relinquish the “C” he’s worn for the last two years.

Ference will, however, remain part of the group and wear an “A” as part of a four-man alternate captain collective, one that also includes Jordan Eberle, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Taylor Hall.

The news of Ference being removed as captain doesn’t come as a huge surprise. The veteran d-man is a well-respected leader, but isn’t expected to be in the lineup every night this season.

The decision to go without a captain, though, is something of a surprise, especially given what new head coach Todd McLellan endured during his final season in San Jose.

The Sharks’ captaincy issue — stripping Joe Thornton, then going with four rotating alternates — was an ongoing problem, something that players, coaches and GM Doug Wilson had to repeatedly address until it blew up in spectacular fashion.

That said, the circumstances in Edmonton are quite different.

It’s believed the club’s intentionally keeping the captaincy vacant, on the assumption that Connor McDavid will evolve into a superstar and, subsequently, the club’s unquestioned leader.

Finally, McLellan noted that with Eberle currently sidelined, a fifth Oiler would be added to the leadership group — veteran forward Matt Hendricks, who will serve as a temporary alternate.

Brandon Sutter didn’t have the greatest preseason

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When Brandon Sutter was acquired by the Vancouver Canucks, GM Jim Benning called the 26-year-old a “foundation piece for our group going forward.”

Sutter was quickly signed to a five-year extension worth almost $22 million, more evidence of how highly management thought of the player.

Fast forward to yesterday, when Benning was asked the following question:

“What does it say that you made the trade for Sutter, you called him a ‘foundation’ player, and it took him until the final night of the preseason to find a spot (with the Sedins) on the wing, which isn’t his natural position?”

Here was Benning’s response:

“Well, [head coach Willie Desjardins] wants to try that out, he thinks that’s going to be a good fit. At various times, the Sedins played with wingers with speed, with [Ryan Kesler], who could get in on the forecheck and had a good shot. Sutter brings some of those qualities, too.”

While all that may be true, Sutter was not signed to play the wing; he was brought in to play center, specifically on the second line. He finished the preseason with zero points in five games. And as mentioned, he’ll start the season on the wing, not his natural position.

Meanwhile, youngsters Bo Horvat, 20, and Jared McCann, 19, had outstanding camps and are expected to start the regular season (tonight in Calgary) centering the second and third lines, respectively.

Though Sutter did finish the preseason with 12 shots on goal, up there with the most on the Canucks, it’s fair to say he did not look like a “foundation” player.

“I haven’t seen him play his best,” Desjardins said last week. “I see a guy who’s big and a good skater and who understands the game real well, but just hasn’t got that involved.”

Now, we are only talking about the preseason here. New players often take time to get comfortable. Perhaps playing with the Sedins can provide Sutter with some confidence.

“I know he’ll be there and I totally believe that,” said Desjardins.

But it hasn’t been the best start, and if it wasn’t for the encouraging play of the youngsters, it would be a far bigger story in Vancouver.

Related: Canucks roll the dice on rookies, waive Vey and Corrado