Saturday, 27 July 2013

Nathan Beaulieu's growing pains

Nathan Beaulieu is a crown jewel in the Canadiens' farm system, a former relatively high first-round pick, and one who is counted on, heavily, to provide the Canadiens with a solid nucleus on the blue line with Jarred Tinordi.  With P.K. Subban already in the fold and almost fully developed, and a number of other prospects who are longer shots but can play a supporting role to this triumvirate in the future, it seems that there is a solid basis for a Cup contender.  The old maxim is that you build a team from the net out.  Well now, with Carey Price and Zachary Fucale in goal, and the three young studs on D, we've taken a big bite of that sandwich.

Nathan Beaulieu's prospects are not unblemished however.  He's a high-risk high reward player, in that while he has tremendous skill and upside, there are also certain issues he needs to work on to become the player he can be.  On ice, he's a gambler and showman, often taking risks on offence but not being as diligent on defence.  Nathan probably has been head and shoulders above other kids growing up, he learned to play hockey in that style, where he gets the puck and keeps it and does what he wants with it.  This is common in young players, and can be worked out of his game to an acceptable degree in the minors.

Off-ice issues cloud the picture even more in my eyes.  For me, showing up out of shape to Bulldogs camp last fall is a big red flag.  I'd understand if he was a naif like Stéphane Richer, a small town kid who doesn't know better, or Nazem Kadri, whose family apparently doesn't/didn't approve of his choice of careers, and who doesn't have the support system, but Nathan's a coach's son, for cripes' sake.  He of all recruits should know better.  Much was made of how he hangs around with NHL'ers, and how he grew up around Rick Nash and Corey Perry.  Some kids will use that as inspiration, or models to pattern their behaviour after, but does he take it the wrong way, and use it as evidence that he'll make it, that he doesn't have to work for it, since he's already there?

Off-ice, there was a bit of a Twitter war between him and his ex-girlfriend around the time he was drafted, which I studiously avoided, and which some people may think is no big deal, since he's only a kid, but still, it didn't happen to Louis Leblanc or Jarred Tinordi or Alex Galchenyuk.  It happened to Nathan.  As far as the assault charges and court appearances, some people brush it off, and hope that it's no big deal, but as I've written before, things that are no big deal don't end up in Criminal Court.

So taken together, the kid is no Aaron Hernandez or Steve Howe, but there are enough warning signs that we the public know of that cause me to be cautious.  He does have a bit of a cocky demeanor, which is fine, but is it a sign of a kid who's a Cool Kid And He Knows It, and he acts like it?  Do his workouts consist of skating and practicing his slap shot, things he's good at, but not all the pesky stuff that's hard like dryland training?  Did his modest slide in the draft occur because he did poorly in interviews, based on some of these factors?

No one wants him to be successful, and to be the first-wave powerplay quarterback and first-pairing defenceman for years to come more than I do.  I can't however discount these issues, just ignore the warts and proclaim how marvelous he is.

The good thing is that he played himself into shape last season and improved his game to the point that he was the scoring leader on the Bulldogs.  I hope that he shows up in great shape this fall, that he's grown up a bit, and that Sylvain Lefebvre, Donald Dufresne and Patrice Brisebois can help him realize his great potential.

And as far as he being a callup, I hope it doesn't happen too soon, or the kid will maybe think that he doesn't need to put in the work, to not try to skip any steps, since he'll have made the NHL with only a so-so AHL season under his belt, and that was enough for him.

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