A career in the National Hockey League can be fleeting.
One month you’re progressively moving up the depth chart and taking a regular shift, the next you find yourself a healthy scratch in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs.
Different variables within an organization can impact your longevity, but when the opportunity arises seizing the chance and understanding your surroundings is imperative.
That is the exact scenario defenceman Nathan Beaulieu finds himself in this season with the Winnipeg Jets.
Acquired last year from the Buffalo Sabres in a deadline acquisition, the soon-to-be 27-year-old understands the relevance this campaign has on his future in the NHL.
“It’s a huge year,” he says profoundly. “I feel like I have a lot to prove. Coming to (Winnipeg) I knew there was going to be a great opportunity. So, yes, it’s a big year for me. But if I take care of what I need to do and the team is on the right track I think everyone will succeed in the end.”
After the trade, Beaulieu suited up for 18 regular season games with the Jets, contributing five assists, seven penalty minutes and a plus-5 rating last spring. However, he was scratched for all six playoff games against St. Louis.
The two-year contract the Jets absorbed when they traded for him ended July 1. Coming out of that agreement, Beaulieu then inked a one-year, $1 million deal last summer to stay in Winnipeg. It was a contract that paid him far less than his previous deal with the Sabres.
Now whether there were other offers is unsure, but according to the product of Strathroy, Ont., he wasn’t very interested in leaving for another opportunity in what could have been his fourth NHL city in six years.
“I just love this organization and team,” says Beaulieu, a 2011 first-round (17th overall) selection of the Montreal Canadiens. “It’s been everything that I hoped it would be with the honesty and trust factor with the coaches. I love coming to [the] rink every day. There are no bad days here. It’s such a positive environment.”
Unfortunately, this season didn’t get off to a smooth start. He missed the first month with an upper-body injury which was suffered in the final preseason game in September in Minnesota.
He worked hard to stay in shape despite the injury and was a mainstay on the stationary bike around the team’s dressing room, which fostered the running joke that cycling the Tour de France might have been easier. But entering play this week, Beaulieu has skated in six games and appears to be getting back into a solid rhythm.
“I told myself it was going to take three to five games to sort everything out,” he says. “I worked really hard when I was out, so my shape is good. I’m not going to lie, at times I felt like there were 30 guys on the ice and it was a little confusing, but as the (games) have gone on I’ve felt much better.”
What the six-foot-two, 200-pound Beaulieu brings of value to the Jets is size, physicality, experience and a positive personality to the team’s blueline, especially in the wake of the many off-season departures at that position.
“He came in last year and was a good player for us,” says Jets head coach Paul Maurice. “He was quick; he was hard (to play against) and willing to stick up for his teammates. He fits our style.”
Beaulieu will be an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season. Should things progress nicely for both parties, one could see an extension with the Jets again – and thus his time in Winnipeg becoming anything but fleeting.
-For the record, Maurice is one of the best quotes in the National Hockey League. His intellect and loquacious personality put him in a completely different class over his coaching peers. He continually serves up great one-liners and analogies over the standard coach-speak. Here’s his take on the team’s comeback in New Jersey at the beginning of the season: “The first period was like eating a sand sandwich on toast. But it got pretty darn exciting at the end though; and we get to keep that one. It was a great comeback.”
-After back-to-back 91 points seasons, Jets forward Blake Wheeler was asked if his slow offensive start is a concern. As usual, the captain gave a profound answer: “For me, it’s about not being a liability anywhere else (on the ice). I’ve watch a lot of my game and I haven’t seen a lot of difference between this year, last year or the year before, except where the numbers are.” By the way, Wheeler is on pace for 47 points this season.
-Here’s one from Jets centre Adam Lowry on why his line of Andrew Copp and Mathieu Perreault are successful at defending and creating offensive chances: “We’re not going into puck battles tip-toeing in.”
The Jets possess the best overtime record in the league at 6-0-1. They are 4-0 in OT and 2-1 in shootouts this season…Winnipeg is 9-1-1 in one-goal games…Perreault leads the team by scoring first in a game thrice this season.