Going into the 2014-15 season, there is a lot of attention put on the prospects vying to make the Montreal Canadiens. So far, Nikita Scherbak has charmed everyone, Jiri Sekac has made a very good impression and Christian Thomas is making himself noticeable. But the most intense glare has been reserved for defensemen Jarred Tinordi and Nathan Beaulieu.
When the two were drafted in 2010 and 2011 respectively, it was no secret both players would need time before they were ready for the NHL. They each bring a unique skill set to the table; Tinordi with his defensive stay at home style and Beaulieu with his smooth skating offensive game. There is room on the team as it stands for one or two defencemen to fill out the defence corps as PK Subban, Andrei Markov, Alexei Emelin, Tom Gilbert and Mike Weaver are already locked in for spots.
Besides Tinordi and Beaulieu, there are other prospect defencemen vying for those coveted defense spots too. Greg Pateryn and Magnus Nygren are on the outside looking in as both players are probably neck and neck with each other. This past season, Pateryn put up 34 points in 68 games which included 15 goals in the AHL as he was Hamilton’s most consistent defenceman. Despite the surprising totals and decent size (6′ 2″ and 222 LBS according to NHL.com), what is holding Pateryn back is there is no standout skill. He does everything well enough but unfortunately he is a dime a dozen player at the NHL level.
For Nygren, he played 16 games for the Hamilton Bulldogs in the AHL before deciding to head back to Sweden where he put up 20 points in 28 games there. Nygren is offensively gifted defenceman with good skating and big shot, a power play specialist in every sense of the word. Much like Pateryn, Nygren’s skill set isn’t special enough to warrant a spot that plays a ton of minutes. On Montreal, there aren’t a lot of power play minutes to go around with Subban, Markov, Gilbert and Beaulieu (if he stays up) likely to get all the minutes on the PP.
Both Pateryn and Nygren are older prospects at age 24 so they are in the awkward stage where they probably aren’t going to get much better but don’t have the same pro experience as others and face being looked over in favour of younger players.
A huge issue facing Pateryn and Nygren is that they both play the right side. With Subban, Gilbert and Weaver the Canadiens have three right handed defencemen locked into the top 6, while only having Markov and Emelin on the left. This likely means that at least one of Beaulieu and Tinordi will be kept to take the left-side spot on the third pair. As a result, Pateryn and Nygren are competing with the loser of the Beaulieu/Tinordi battle for the role of 7th defencemen. We have three players competing for only one available spot.
For Tinordi, his development is probably right on track. A big man at 6′ 6″ and 227 LBS. (NHL.com), Tinordi has surprisingly good mobility for a player his size and fighting skills that many hope out of a big player. What will determine whether Tinordi stays up with the Habs or not is whether he can handle more minutes. He started the season in the NHL last year but after 22 games, it became clear he wasn’t ready so he was sent down to the AHL for the rest of the year. Tinordi did well when given easy minutes but once they were ramped, he appeared overwhelmed. It is not unusual for big players to take longer to find their games, it took Zdeno Chara years before becoming the defenceman he is. While Tinordi isn’t expected to become a Chara, the potential is there for him to become that big tough crease clearing defensive defenceman Montreal lacks.
Between Tinordi and Beaulieu, it appears Beaulieu has the likelier chance to earn a bigger role right away. He did well for Montreal in the playoffs appearing in both games six and seven for Montreal against Boston as his passing ability and skating were huge assets for the Habs. Beaulieu’s biggest flaws are focus and defensive lapses. He can get caught puck watching or choose the riskier play. But his upside as top four puck moving defenceman who could potentially quarterback the power play is tantalizing.
As opening night on October 8th approaches, the Habs have a challenge on their hands in trying to evaluate whether Tinordi and/or Beaulieu are ready for bigger roles in the NHL. Both are on their last years of their entry level contracts so potential isn’t enough anymore. They possess the tools to be very valuable NHL defensemen in their own ways. It’s time for them to step up and show why they were worthy of those first round selections.
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