By Dan Kramer, Senior Writer, All Habs Hockey Magazine
TORONTO, ON – The Fall of 2012 saw the professional debuts of a number of bluechip prospects with the Hamilton Bulldogs. There was no greater hype, however, than that surrounding two of the Montreal Canadiens’ most recent first round picks in Nathan Beaulieu and Jarred Tinordi, high profile defensemen who play quite opposite games.
Few doubt Tinordi’s eventual progression into a sound NHLer. From his 6-foot-7 frame to his recognized leadership as captain of the OHL’s London Knights, he is the makings of a character defensive blueliner that can be so important to a winning team. The questions as he moved to Hamilton surrounded whether his lack of offensive production made him too one-dimensional, and if he’d be able to keep up with a faster pace of play at the next level.
Tinordi scored 16 and 14 points over his two years in the Ontario League respectively, so big numbers weren’t to be expected in the AHL, but he hasn’t looked uncomfortable with the puck at all. Of course, there is the occasional awkward defensive zone bobble which isn’t uncommon for a young man continuing to grow into his large body, but his four points thus far on the season are only one back of Morgan Ellis and two of Brendon Nash, both considered to have more offensive upside. He scored his first professional goal on December 16th, a marker temporarily taken away and given to Gabriel Dumont, but later returned to Tinordi whose point shot deflected in off a defenseman rather than the pesky ‘Dog in front. The one goal matches the total he scored in his entire first season in London.
Though he won’t turn 21 until February, Tinordi’s off-ice presence is already felt in the Bulldogs’ locker room. With injuries to veterans Aaron Palushaj and Blake Geoffrion, and Darryl Boyce‘s tryout contract not being extended, the American d-man was rewarded with the team’s third A added to his sweater, at the least on a temporary basis. Teammate Frederic St. Denis was quoted as supporting the decision, identifying Tinordi as a “great leader,” in an interview with Dogs’ play-by-play man Derek Wills, and saying he earned the letter with his voice among teammates.
Tinordi still needs time to shore up some defensive zone play, but any concerns about skating haven’t proven problematic, as he is actually quite agile for his size. Though he is more physical than, say, Hal Gill, there is also hope that he takes the body more frequently once he becomes more comfortable with positioning and pace against better competition.
Whereas much of what Tinordi has accomplished can be credited to his attitude and motivation, success has always seemed to come all too easy for fellow prospect Nathan Beaulieu. His father, Jacques, is a Canadian Hockey League coach (currently heading Alex Galchenyuk‘s Sarnia Sting), and Nathan had the benefit of playing under pops for his first year with the Saint John Sea Dogs. When he had to emerge from his comfort zone under a new coach – now Montreal Assistant Coach Gerrard Gallant – he enjoyed being part of a thoroughly stacked roster that posted a 53-12-3 record. Beaulieu’s 45 points in 66 games that year ranked 7th on his team, ahead of names like Jonathan Huberdeau and Zack Phillips.
In his draft year, Beaulieu’s production remained consistent, as the Sea Dogs improved their record further to finish 58-7-3 in a year they would go on to capture the Memorial Cup. How easy were the points coming? Beaulieu’s +/- had ballooned to +44, and with Huberdeau now leading the way offensively, he was putting up strong numbers sometimes even on off-nights.
The following season saw Beaulieu improve upon his prior point-per-game numbers on an as-dominant-as-ever Saint John roster. So what is the concern with the 6’2″ 194 lbs rearguard? The main issue has seemed to be between the ears, where the Ontario native had been accused of giving up on plays (see: last year’s Canada-Russia WJC game), taking lazy or undisciplined penalties, and occasionally making risky passes in his own end.
There has been a bit of that in Beaulieu’s adaptation phase, though he started the season out showing impressive skill as one of Hamilton’s more dependable defenders (he maintained a +2 rating through October). The points, however, weren’t coming for the first time in Beaulieu’s career, and he hit a bit of a rut. The Bulldogs were no Sea Dogs or Team Canada, and Beaulieu had to deal with stronger opposition for the first time in years. Did his play trail off a bit because of inconsistency in his game? Simple frustration? Was it the normal learning curve of a rookie?
We may never know, as a turning point seemed to be the calendar switching over to December. Prior to this month, Beaulieu’s stat line read just 2 assists through 16 contests. In December, he has impressively been a point-per-game player thus far, registering his first professional goal along with 7 assists in 8 games. He has been rushing the puck with more confidence, and though he still at times makes ill-advised breakout passes, his overall game is coming along with the point production.
Off the ice, Beaulieu and Tinordi are quite familiar with each other, having been teammates in numerous development camps and squaring off at the Memorial Cup and World Junior Championships. They seem to have developed a good friendship, chatting frequently and usually leaving the dressing room together at game’s end. While they’re a rather unlikely pairing on-ice given they’re both left-handed shots, and though they both have some work still to do before reaching the NHL, their complimentary skill sets should have them continuing their journeys together in Montreal Canadiens sweaters before too long.
[For live coverage of Hamilton Bulldog home games straight from Copps Coliseum, be sure to follow me on Twitter at @DanKramerHabs. Next up: Friday ,December 21st at 7:30 PM against St. John’s. And keep checking http://www.AllHabs.net/ for frequent Bulldog updates!]