Top 25 Under 25: #5 Nathan Beaulieu

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Nathan Beaulieu retains his #5 spot from last year as he starts an early transition to pro hockey, He could be the offensive key for the Bulldogs this season from the back end.

The crown jewel of the Montreal Canadiens' prospect system prior to the 2012 entry draft, Nathan Beaulieu remains the top defensive prospect for the Habs. Beaulieu was considered a potential top 10 pick in 2011, he fell to the Canadiens at 17. Beaulieu has been a top defenseman for one of the best junior teams in the world in Saint John. He is most known for his top level skill set, boasting a rare blend of size, skating and puck skills.

Beaulieu played in a depth offensive role for Team Canada last season at the WJC. a stint that earned him ridicule for a very public mistake when he thought the play had been whistled dead when it wasn't, and cost his squad a goal. Still, it is very encouraging to make Team Canada at all, especially in his draft+1 season. It should be noted that star defenders Subban and Alex Pietrangelo both played in the depth PP option that Beaulieu did during their draft+1 year, although both were younger by 1-5 months. Unfortunately, Beaulieu's December birthday just prevents him from returning to put on a better showing like those two did.

Fortunately, his birth date does bring the advantage of being able to play in the AHL during his 19-20 year old season, ahead of his draft cohorts. This allows him to move up to a more appropriate level of competition instead of staying for another year in a league he already dominates.

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Player Berkshire Cooper Peter Boyle Van Steendelaar Dahan Ive Boucher La Rose Rice
Beaulieu 5 6 4 5 5 8 5 5 4 7

Beaulieu works out to be pretty much a consensus 5th pick and is the top non NHL player from before the 2012 draft. He is also the top prospect defenseman on most lists, being beaten out by Tinordi twice (Dahan and Rice).

Playing on a good team or not, Beaulieu's +128 over 3 QMJHL seasons is fantastic, behind only Jonathan Huberdeau on his team. A team that has included a number of high end prospects in recent years like Zach Phillips and Tomas Jurco. It also leads his league for defenseman during those 3 years. Beaulieu was the leading +/- defender in 2010-11 and the 2nd in 2011-12. making him also the leader for the previous 2 years with +85.

Strengths: Beaulieu is the total package on offense, a great combination of speed, shot and puck skills results in an excellent set-up man and goal scorer from the back-end. Beaulieu demonstrates talents in all zones of the ice, his play in his own zone is pretty under-rated and he's solid in the transition game, being both a solid puck mover and puck carrier. Beaulieu's passing may be his strongest element according to scouting by Chris Boucher. His skating also allows him to cover a lot of ice on both offense and defense.

Weaknesses: He Is notorious for his occasional defensive brain cramps, which gives him a bad reputation as one-dimensional in spite of his excellent play in his own zone overall. While he's a fast skater there are technical issues there including ability to pivot from both sides. In general his raw talents must be ironed out into a finished product if he's to become the high level defenseman so many think he can be.

Projection: The best case scenario for Beaulieu seems to be as an offensive 2nd-3rd defenseman and top pairing powerplay point man. There project to be enough weaknesses in his defensive game that he'll benefit from being paired with a solid and responsible blueliner like Josh Gorges. Fellow Q grad Morgan Ellis seems like a likely candidate to fill this role. Beaulieu does have the kind of tools that a future as a star defenseman a la P.K. Subban isn't out of the question.

Beaulieu currently looks to spend 1-2 seasons in the AHL at least before making the NHL as a 3rd pairing offensive defenseman. He's the guy in the organization best positioned to make Tomas Kaberle completely redundant.

#6: Louis Leblanc #5: Nathan Beaulieu #4: Lars Eller
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