Blue Line Believer
by Kevin Sylvester, Buffalo Sports Page
The buzz at Sabres practice on Wednesday was all about Jack Eichel’s contract extension, what it means for the franchise, and if he’ll be named captain. Exciting and interesting items for Sabres fans. It’s the story everyone is talking about. Anther story that few are talking about is the Sabres defenseman for opening night.
Zach Bogosian wasn’t out there and is day to day with an injury. Unfortunately, that has become a familiar story for the blue liner that has been hampered by the injury bug since he’s been in Buffalo. Josh Gorges will have to wait for an opportunity to get in the lineup as Phil Housley stated after practice. Those are two familiar names that Sabres fans may or may not have been counting on this season. An unfamiliar name is Nathan Beaulieu, the 24 year old defenseman the Sabres acquired prior the 2017 NHL Draft for a 3rd round pick.
The smooth skating Beaulieu is a former first round pick of the Montreal Canadiens, taken 17th overall in 2011. He received plenty of opportunities in Montreal, but it didn’t work out, ending his time there as a healthy scratch in an eliminating game 6 loss the to the NY Rangers. He started that season not the top pair with Shea Weber. It was quite a turn from the beginning to the end, but it will come full circle when he makes his Sabres debut on the top pairing with Rasmus Ristolainen.
“It’s a big opportunity for me. I don’t want to look at this so much as a fresh start, it’s more of a bigger opportunity. When you look back at my season there was a lot of good things that happened last year, it just wasn’t a good fit anymore from their (Montreal’s) standpoint.” Beaulieu added “The only thing I can do here is take full advantage of the opportunities that are given to me.”
It’s clear the opportunity to play with Ristolainen wasn’t just handed to him. Sabres coach Phil Housley praised Beaulieu’s attitude and work ethic, and likes his game, “I see a guy that can skate, has good mobility……I like the way he jumps up the play, the way he adds to the attack. Because of that he is being rewarded.”
Rasmus Ristolainen, looking every bit the part as the team’s top defenseman, likes his current partners strengths, “I think skating, and breaking out. He’s a great passer. I feel comfortable, and the rest of the guys feel comfortable when he has the puck and bringing up the play”.
With his new partner and coach believing in him, Beaulieu can’t wait to get the regular season started. As fate would have it, his former team, the Montreal Canadiens are the opening draw. It was immediate excitement when the schedule was released this past summer. “Not long. When it first came out I had some buddies text me…It’s pretty exciting, you always want to get that one out of the way.” He added that he is still close with many of the Habs players, including Shea Weber, “I pretty much talk to him every week still, and he’s been a big help….Even though we’re not teammates, he’s still a teammate of mine in an aspect. I’m still learning from him”. A good man to have in his corner.
This is a big opportunity for the young defenseman. Sabres GM Jason Botterill was tasked with fixing the blue line, and Beaulieu was on of his first significant moves. All signs point to the team’s confidence in him, but perhaps the best sign in his belief in himself.