Nathan Beaulieu developing into a precise passer
For anyone watching the Montreal Canadiens during the preseason, two things have stood out above anything else.
1. Alex Galchenyuk looks incredible at the centre position.
2. Nathan Beaulieu looks ready for a top-four role on defence.
Beaulieu in particular has created a lot of buzz among the media and blogging community, as he presses Alexei Emelin for a spot on the second pairing with Jeff Petry. While there are many strengths in Beaulieu’s game, where he’s stood out the most has been passing.
Playing over 22 minutes a night, Beaulieu has been surgical with the puck on his stick, and he’s had it a ton.
Through four preseason games for him, and seven total, Beaulieu is attempting over 10 more passes per 20 minutes played than the average Habs defenseman, showing how much more he’s making plays with the puck than his peers.
Beaulieu’s frequency of making passes isn’t what’s truly impressive about his play though, it’s how absurdly successful he’s been with it, and how that’s enabled his team to move the puck the right way.
Beaulieu’s 85.7% pass success rate isn’t likely to last, as the space players have to make plays in preseason doesn’t exist in regular season hockey, but the gap between him and the rest of the team’s 78.8% success rate is worth paying attention to. It’s especially impressive when you consider that Beaulieu is making so many more passes than the average defenseman, which compounds his puck-moving impact further.
Breaking it down further, Beaulieu’s effectiveness is almost equally felt in the defensive zone, an area he has been criticized for in the past. That accuracy in the defensive zone has made a big difference too, as you can see that fewer of his passes take place in the defensive zone than average, despite not getting a zone start push to help him out.
While Beaulieu didn’t play much with Petry in preseason, instead splitting time between mentoring prospects and playing with Tom Gilbert, his average ice time suggests that he was being tested for taking on a bigger role this season. Whether the intention to spell Andrei Markov so the veteran isn’t worn out by playoff time, or to take minutes from Alexei Emelin is unclear, but either case would help the Canadiens long term.
Beaulieu’s puck-moving success culminated in a three assist night on Saturday as the Canadiens finished off their preseason schedule in Ottawa, after which he was praised for a dominant performance with and without the puck. So far in his NHL career, Beaulieu has struggled to produce offence consistently, however if this step forward in his play continues into the regular season, Marc Bergevin will be smiling wide.
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