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Monday, May 9, 2011

Bruins 2011 Draft: The Case for Nathan Beaulieu

Welcome to the sixth and final post in the series where Bruins 2011 Draft Watch focuses on the details of a specific player we see as worthy of gaining the attention of Boston fans given where the team is picking with the ninth overall selection.

We started in December with a focus piece on Gabriel Landeskog, then posted one profile per month on Dougie Hamilton, Jonathan Huberdeau, Ryan Murphy and in late April, published Mika Zibanejad. The series has been fun, but the show must go on. This month, B2011DW will begin to post our top-50, and those rankings will count down, taking us all the way to the NHL draft next month.

Dateline: X-Cel Energy Center, St. Paul, Minnesota June 24, 2011

Picking ninth overall in the 2011 NHL Entry Draft isn't ideal, but the Boston Bruins will take it. One NHL amateur scouting director once said that the earlier you pick, the less other teams get to determine your draft fate for you. However, because Toronto surged in February and March, the B's find themselves having to take what is available to them. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Gabriel Landeskog, Jonathan Huberdeau, Adam Larsson, Sean Couturier, Ryan Strome, Dougie Hamilton and Ryan Murphy have all had their names called, the so-called 'Elite 8" has unfolded as anticipated, and Boston will have to look to the next tier to choose from.

When NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman announces to the rest of the building that the Boston Bruins are now on the clock with the ninth overall selection in the 2011 NHL Entry Draft, the team deliberates at its table right up until the point that time about expires,

The Bruins have some intriguing players to choose from, but in looking at it from a needs perspective, no position needs more addressing than at defense. More specifically, the Bruins lack a higher-end offensive defenseman and puck mover. They have no shortage of solid prospects who project as middle and bottom pairing guys, but lack a single defender with the upside of a No. 1 or 2 at the NHL level.

While there are still several defensemen available such as the huge and mobile Jamie Oleksiak from Northeastern in the Bruins' backyard, or Saskatoon standout Duncan Siemens, Boston has their eyes on a Maritimer.

Boston Bruins organizational team and front office walk to the stage from their table, holding a Boston Bruins jersey with the digits "11" stitched onto on the back and sleeves. General Manager Peter Chiarelli takes the stage and walks to the podium to announce the pick.

After the initial pleasantries of thanking the city of Minneapolis/St. Paul and host Minnesota Wild, Chiarelli gets down to business.

"With the ninth pick in the 2011 NHL Entry Draft, the Boston Bruins select, from the Saint John Sea Dogs of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League...defenseman Nathan Beaulieu."

Nathan Beaulieu, Defense Saint John Sea Dogs (QMJHL)


Height: 6-2 Weight: 180 Shoots: Left
Born: December 5, 1992 in Strathroy, Ontrario

(QMJHL vitals: 6-3, 191)

2010-11 Saint John (QMJHL) GP: 65 G: 12 A: 33 PTS: 45 PIM: 44
Playoffs: GP: 15 G: 3 A: 12 PTS: 15 PIM: 24

Born in Ontario; his father, Jacques, was head coach of Saint John (when the Sea Dogs drafted his son) before being replaced by Gerard Gallant. He is now an assistant coach with the London Knights of the OHL, in his second stint with the team (2002-06). Beaulieu spent a lot of his time growing up in the Maritimes and around London, Ontario. Was a rink rat with the Knights from about age 9-13 and got to know NHL All-Stars Rick Nash and (MVP candidate) Corey Perry when the latter was a star forward on the team. Participated in Team Canada's National Junior Team development camp last August, making a real impression on the scouts in attendance, even if he wasn't able to crack the WJC roster.

Strengths: Good mobility; wide base/track skater with quick acceleration and the ability to change direction quickly. Solid agility, edge control and footwork make him effective in all zones. Not blazing fast, but has a long stride that allows him to beat the forecheck and carry the puck on his own. Strong passer; sees the ice well and can make all short, intermediate and long-range stretch passes. More of a puck mover than a puck rusher, Beaulieu nevertheless will jump into the play and join the rush. Has a big shot; with accuracy and a low trajectory that makes for a more tippable drive for his forwards in front of the net. Good wrist shot, too- recognizes situations and uses the wrister when time and space isn't there for the big bomb. Offensive instincts are solid, with vision, recognition and the ability to make decisions under duress. Capable defensive player; rubs guys out along the boards and takes proper angles rather than make the big hit, but always looking to initiate contact and plays a rugged game. Quick stick and exhibits good gap control. An underrated, even nasty fighter; doesn't drop the gloves all that often because most opponents have seen enough from him to give Beaulieu a wide berth. Too valuable to be spending a lot of time in the box, but when riled up, tends to uncork a devastating combination of crosses and haymakers in rapid fashion. Most would rather let sleeping dogs lie when it comes to trying to intimidate Beaulieu.

Here are some links to video of Beaulieu for evidence:

Jérôme Bérubé brings us a Nathan Beaulieu compilation video via alex20wild on his NHL Draft Video blog

Here's Jérôme's archive of Beaulieu videos on his blog for your reference.

Weaknesses: Got off to a slow start offensively, and scouts said he was trying to do too much. Once he simplified things and relaxed a bit, the production just came naturally. Improvements to his game need to be tweaks to mechanics in his shot (release point and quickness, pivoting to right, etc.). Supremely confident- even a bit cocky sometimes- could stand to dial it down a notch, but according to insiders, a respected kid in the room who puts the team first and has his mates' backs.

Style Compares to: Ryan Suter, Mike Green (NHL scout)

Why the Bruins would pick Beaulieu: Central Scouting has Beaulieu fifth overall in their North American final rankings, and if anything, he's raised his stock since the playoffs began. If the B's concur with that assessment, then he's solid value for them at the ninth spot. The B's do not have any players in their system who can do what he's capable of, and a bonus for the 18-year-old is the fact that he plays a blue collar-type of game to go with his solid skill set. He's comparable to Tomas Kaberle, but plays with the kind of edge that Kaberle will never possess (and what will keep him from ever being fully embraced in Boston even if the team re-signs him in the off-season). If the B's take Beaulieu, you're looking at a future PP quarterback and potential top pairing defender if he reaches his expectations.

Why the Bruins would not pick Beaulieu: His rankings are all over the map (THN had him 18th in their draft preview issue, while Red Line Report has yet to see him crack the top-30- 32nd in April bulletin), and given his disappointing production this season, he might be overrated in some circles. Particularly troubling is the lack of high-end production on the CHL's most dominant team, a prolific scoring machine if ever there was one. Although Beaulieu came on late in the season and has picked it up in the playoffs, his first few months was pretty mediocre, and he might just be a middle tier defenseman at the NHL level, especially on a club expecting him to carry the mail as a No. 1 or 2.

What scouts/coaches are saying:

"Beaulieu is a solid offensive defenseman with some good size. His overall game has improved this year and when he is playing his best he can control things. Offensively, he is a very good player who will go a little higher than maybe he should because of a lack of high-end 'D' outside the top-10."- NHL Western Conference scout to B2011DW, May 9, 2011

'He's such a smart, character kid. He's exactly the kind of player you want on your team- has some real offensive potential but I keep going back to his character and the fact that he brings his best to any situation."- NHL Eastern Conference scout to B2011DW May 9, 2011

"He'll be an offensive-defenseman … he's a good skater, good puck-mover. He has a good shot and is very poised with the puck. He's a veteran who has a lot of responsibilities for Saint John."- NHL Central Scouting's Chris Bordeleau to NHL.com

""He's gotten better, bigger and stronger, he’s playing a lot better defensively but he's pressing for his points. He's a guy who gets a lot of opportunities because he jumps into the rush very well."- Saint John coach Gerard Gallant to NHL.com

"...Generally solid in defensive zone coverage with good awareness around the net. Not as punishing as you'd like in the corners or in front of net. Has a long, smooth stride with a wide base and good balance and accelerates well with the puck on his blade. Can break the trap with long stretch passes through the neutral zone. For all his good footwork, he only pivots well to his left- can't pivot to his right."- Red Line Report, December 2010

Nathan Beaulieu, D- Opinions on this defenseman are split, but when talking about players with a high ceiling and the ubiquitous scouting term "upside" this New Brunswick native has it. Although not as big as Dougie Hamilton, Beaulieu nonetheless plays big and brings a physical edge to his game with the ability to fight if provoked. In 13 games, he's tallied three goals and 14 points. Beaulieu is a fine skater and works very effectively on the point. His father, Jacques, used to be the Saint John head coach and is currently an assistant for Dale Hunter with the London Knights, so Beaulieu has grown up around high-level hockey and has had good coaching. Central had him fifth overall in their final rankings, but THN only had him 18th. He got off to a slow start this season offensively, and he could be a case of a pick-your-flavor player in terms of some NHL teams liking him a lot more than others.
Prediction: This one's tougher; internet chatter makes Beaulieu a candidate for top-10 selection in June, and he could get there, but we've heard enough lukewarm opinions on him from NHL sources which could mean he's closer 15-20 than 9 or 10. Solid first-rounder, but his ranking is all over the map.- B2011DW, May 2, 2011

Beaulieu in his own words:

“If you’ve seen me play, one of the things I’ve got to get better at is my own end. I’m going to work on everything this summer. Shooting, skating. Playing defence, you always have to get stronger.”- Beaulieu to London Free Press, May 21, 2010

"I'm not afraid to do it and I don't mind protecting my teammates. I'm not afraid to fight but it's not part of my game. I don't need to go out there and fight every night." Beaulieu to NHL.com, December 10, 2010 (Mike G. Morreale)

Bust factor: Moderate; Beaulieu has the look of an NHL player, but if he is picked in the top-10, then anything less than No. 1 or 2 billing in the big league is going to be a step down. His skill is there for all to see, but he doesn't have the production to back it up. At the same time, he's a smart, hard-working guy who grew up around the game and has had some very good role models, starting with his dad.

The Verdict: While Beaulieu doesn't have the size of a guy like Dougie Hamilton or Jamie Oleksiak, nor the dynamic upside of a Ryan Murphy, or the sheer physical nastiness of Duncan Siemens, he brings elements of all those guys into a neat package. If the Bruins were to spend the ninth pick on him, it would present a bit of a risk in that he played on a top team and wasn't able to improve his numbers from a year ago. At the same time, he was better defensively, and has been a point-per-game player in the postseason. He was an impressive cat at the WJC evaluation camp and could make the 2012 roster which will play on home soil in Calgary. This is a player who has plenty of talent and skills you like to see in a high-end prospect: he's one of the best pure puck movers in the entire draft class and plays with the kind of poise and intelligence you like to see. What is going to make or break Beaulieu landing in the top-10 is whether a team picking there sees him possessing a high ceiling, bigger than what he's done to date in junior. He's one of the more well-rounded players in the draft and is worthy of a gamble because even if he doesn't meet his projections, Beaulieu looks like he'll at least contribute. When you're a team like the Bruins, getting a top PMD is a priority, even if said player is likely a few years away from being ready to make an impact. Remember, this is gravy time for Boston- they've reached the conference finals for the first time in nearly two decades, so adding a player like Nathan Beaulieu is the proverbial icing on the cake, and exposing him to guys like Zdeno Chara and Dennis Seidenberg would likely make him an even better player.


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