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Montreal Canadiens Trade Target: Nicolas Beaudin — The prospect that got away

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The Canadiens had interest in Beaudin at the draft, and the possibility may be there to land him.

2018 NHL Draft - Portraits Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images

There have been a few reports that the Chicago Blackhawks are looking to add some scoring help in the off-season. The news that has come out, like the report from Elliotte Friedman recently, are often pointing to Max Pacioretty as a potential fit.

With Chicago shedding Marian Hossa’s contract in a trade with the Arizona Coyotes, the ‘Hawks now have the space necessary to bolster their team in the form of a top-six winger like Pacioretty. The nearly $5.5 million they gained could have them be the new home of the goal-scorer, who comes at a real bargain on the last year of one of the best contracts in the league.

Chicago doesn’t seem like a team that is ready to fold and give up on their Stanley Cup dreams despite the rough season they just had. They are currently refurnishing their depth with young players; cheap elements to complement their star players. It shouldn’t be mistaken for a rebuild, at least not a full one. The Blackhawks seem to only have been regrouping, healing their wounds caused by years of long playoffs rounds only to try their best to get back to their identity of perennial contender, looking to maintain it as long as their core will allow them to do so.

The game-breaking potential of the Montreal Canadiens’ captain, added to his two-way game, could do a whole lot for Chicago as they strive to achieve those ideals. If Corey Crawford comes back to form, and the aforementioned youth can help solidify their defence, the expectations could rise rapidly for a Blackhawks team that could count on prolific scorer Max Pacioretty fed by Patrick Kane or Jonathan Toews.

But the question always is: what would be the price? And is there a way for Montreal and Chicago to find something that works for both organizations?

According to the latest reports, the Habs seem to have their sights dead on trading the left-winger. A quick resolution of the complex and now potentially harmful situation as time brings us closer and closer to training camp would be the best thing for both the player and the team.

Montreal is looking to add young assets, but also seems to specifically target NHL-ready players with high upside. Players fitting both of those criteria are usually hard to pry away from organizations, and it remains to be seen if Chicago would be willing to do that even for a 30-goal-scorer in any year that isn’t an injury-filled disaster. A contract extension would also change the parameters of a deal and command a bigger return.

That being said, with the ticking time bomb that now is the Pacioretty situation, it might be best for the organization to change their approach, and try to get the most out of a trade another way: by betting on future assets, picks and recently drafted prospects.

This way, the Habs could still potentially hit a home run out of the hole they dug themselves by repeatedly lowering the value of their own roster players.

In a package, the ‘Hawks could give one of the players the Habs were extremely interested at at the 2018 NHL Draft, and one well-known by their assistant coach Dominique Ducharme: defenceman Nicolas Beaudin.

From Trevor Timmins’ comments, we know that the organization tried to trade up to get him on the first day of the selections, also making it clear that the scouting staff had him as a first-rounder on their list. And for good reason.

Nicolas Beaudin is one of the very best passers from the draft. There are raw elements in his game, but his play with the puck is not, especially in his zone. He has poise and vision that is way beyond what is seen from most players his age.

This week we had articles on the defencemen who were drafted by the Habs in the latest draft, looking at Jordan Harris and Alexander Romanov’s potential as puck-movers. While Harris is a better prospect in that aspect, he doesn’t come close to what Beaudin can do for a team. In that category, the defenceman is comparable to the draft’s elite prospects.

Shot assists: pass that result on a shot on goal; Scoring chances assists: pass to mid or high-danger areas that result on a shot on goal; Controlled Entry: carrying the puck or passing it across the offensive blue line. It can be successful or not; Controlled Exits: carrying the puck or passing it across the defensive blue line. It can be successful or not; Break Ups: stripping the attacker of possession in the neutral zone and starting the rush; Controlled Entry Against: how often a defender has the opposition attempt a controlled entry against him. A measure of the tightness of gap control through the Neutral Zone. Higher percentile means less controlled zone entries attempted or tighter gap control; Controlled Entry Prevention: how many of the controlled entry attempts against were prevented by a defender at the defensive blue-line; Corsi: shot attempt differential while at even strength play.
Mitch Brown - CHL Comparison

Evan Bouchard was praised for his passing ability before the draft. It was, in the eyes of many, what would make him go at the top of the draft, which he did. Yet if we compare his ability to have his team exit the zone with possession on Mitch Brown’s tracking project, he trails Beaudin in that respect. Both defencemen create around the same number of controlled zone exits per 60 minutes, with a slight edge to Bouchard, but Beaudin trumps all other defencemen tracked in the project by virtually always having the puck exit in a controlled manner (carrying it out himself or passing it to a teammate who does the same) the vast majority of the time, and only very rarely resorts to dump-outs, which is something Bouchard is still doing.

Beaudin makes precise passes, can protect the puck, but doesn’t over-handle. He can also fake forecheckers with a few moves on puck retrievals.

His overall game is simple and effective, but not in the sense that we usually intend it when talking about defenceman. He is more than a “good first pass” player who defers to teammates on the breakout.

He instead moves the puck safely by being quick and having a superior awareness, rarely putting his teammates in trouble, but finding the best breakout route to allow them to accelerate into open ice, which speaks to his ability to make decisions under pressure. His passing ability also serves him in the same way on the offence where he generates scoring chances with his feeds.

Nicolas Beaudin is no sure thing despite his qualities. We can say the same about almost any prospect. He needs to gain a bit of weight, and his play away from the puck, especially off the rush, could also be more solid even if it isn’t a weakness. He also isn’t the best skater, even if he can pick up speed with crossovers, and will need specific work on the mechanics of his stride (currently short due to a lack of knee bend and a wide stance on his skates).

Betting on any prospect is a riskier approach in a trade. They are not finished products by any means and require projection on their tools. But it is a way, if you identify the right targets and bank on a favourable development, to still recoup a lot of future value out of your moved assets.

Trading Max Pacioretty to the Blackhawks is a chance for the Habs to get a prospect that they likely have in high esteem, one that got away from them at the draft. He wouldn’t be the only piece in that trade, but he could be a very interesting project to take on as Montreal shapes what looks more and more like a rebuild. As he develops, he could fill an immense need on the Habs’ blue line, his smooth and precise passes and his ability to play against the forecheck contributing to the team’s transition game for years to come.