When Pierre Gauthier stated the day before the 2011 NHL draft that he would take the best player remaining available, he wasn't just whistling Dixie. For their first-round pick, 17th overall, the Montreal Canadiens drafted Nathan Beaulieu who was, surprisingly enough, still available.
My initial reaction was disappointment.
The Canadiens had picked a solid young defenseman in Jarred Tinordi the year before. Along with Alexei Yemelin, Mac Bennet, Greg Pateryn, Morgan Ellis and Raphael Diaz, the organization's depth at defense seem solid enough. By the time some of these kids come up through the system to play at Le Centre Bell, PK Subban, and likely Josh Gorges, will still be protecting Carey Price, and Montreal's blueline will be quite formidable indeed.
But big, scoring forward prospects are sadly lacking, and I felt certain that this was something the team would try to address in Minnesota.
Still, it's hard not to like Beaulieu.
Most draft lists had him projected to go within the top 10, with TSN ranking him as high as fifth overall. At 6'2" he's still got plenty of time to put on some much-needed weight, but his skill set is already showing glimpses of offensive prowess and good vision.
He's a left-handed defender with enough offense that, if developed properly, could even someday quarterback the Habs power play. He's fast and along with his two-way play he has the guts to give as much as he has when things get a bit rough.
He's shown some character to go along with his talents, and this is something I value highly and sometimes find to be sorely underrated when assessing prospects. He's also had a taste of success at a young age, having been a Memorial Cup winner and All-Star.
Place Beaulieu, with a stay-at-home defenseman like Jarred Tinordi and the Habs, will have a strong second pairing to compliment Josh Gorges and PK Subban in a couple of years.
This is a team that has long relied on solid—if not outright spectacular—goaltending for decades, and if Carey Price is the proverbial brick, then his defensemen are the mortar. Right now, Price has some good mortar but it's getting old and starting to crumble.
Hal Gill was resigned by Montreal, and has proven a valuable, solid shutdown defenseman who exhibits spectacular shot-blocking powers in the postseason, but he’s 36 and on a one-year deal for a reason. He’s big but slow and has absolutely no offensive upside to his game.
Also in his last season is Jaroslav Spacek, who is the wrong side of 35 and unlikely to see another deal from the Habs. Roman Hamrlik will probably hit the open market this summer, and Andrei Markov will be 35 when his latest contract expires, assuming his bad luck does not cut his playing time short once again.
The Habs will need youth, speed and puck-moving defenders in the near future. It can’t all come courtesy of PK Subban.
Adding to their strong defensive core will pay dividends in years to come, as young players who prove surplus or don’t quite fit into the system can also be dealt to fill other voids within the organization.
After some research and reflection, I’m really not so disappointed anymore that Gauthier did not choose a forward, and there are still prospects he can target in the later rounds to help fill in that gap.
I can see why Montreal chose Beaulieu, and it has nothing to do with his last name. This kid is actually pretty good and I look forward to seeing him, Subban, Gorges, Yemelin and Tinordi creating a wall in front of Carey Price in just a few short years.