Instant Analysis – Bulldogs Call Up Nattinen & Beaulieu

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By Dan Kramer, Senior Writer, All Habs Hockey Magazine

Nattinen

HAMILTON, ON – Habs fans have been waiting patiently for the Montreal brass to summon reinforcements from Hamilton since the most recent wave of injuries and illness hit. But Marc Bergevin and his staff remained quiet. Until Friday morning that is (you can find the Official Release for the callups here.)

The names of the players called up to support a struggling defense and a shorthanded forward corps may come as a surprise to many, however. Here’s a look at how Joonas Nattinen and Nathan Beaulieu have performed for the Hamilton Bulldogs this season, and why it is them that got the call to join the big club.

JOONAS NATTINEN

Centre
6’2”, 187 lbs
23 years old

Of the two call-ups, certainly Nattinen is the lesser-known and bigger surprise to Hab fans. Through the first twenty games this year, while Hamilton bounced back and forth between hot and cold spells, the Finnish centre was easily the team’s most consistent performer. As the team in its entirety improved, Nattinen’s role was eclipsed by the team’s bigger scorers, but he remained a critical element bringing balance to the forward units as the fourth line pivot.

Joonas Nattinen (Photo by Hamilton Bulldogs)
Joonas Nattinen (Photo by Hamilton Bulldogs)

At the time of his call-up, Nattinen was playing most frequently with Justin Courtnall and Stefan Fournier on a two-way energy line. He is strong in the face-off circle and a very adept penalty killer who isn’t afraid to engage physically (typically one or two big hits a night) or battle in the corners. His numbers don’t jump off the page at you with only five goals and eleven points in 37 games, but that’s not to say he’s inept offensively. He has a good shot and will work his way to the front of the goal, but his usage hasn’t lent itself to increasing his output.

Nattinen has also been used to get teammates going. He can create room for his linemates using his size, and the likes of Justin Courtnall, Stephen MacAulay, and Steve Quailer all saw immediate lifts to their game after playing on his wings. His line will occasionally be used to start a period in order to set the tone through their workmanlike qualities.

It is somewhat surprising that the Habs turned to Nattinen over Gabriel Dumont, who has been playing some of his best hockey of the season of late. One possible reason is that Dumont blocked a shot late in Sunday’s win over Iowa from which he didn’t return. But if an injury isn’t at cause, then one can also suggest Bergevin identified a need for a bigger framed forward as well as one who is superior at winning draws.

I’ve suggested from the start of the season that Nattinen could fit right in on an NHL fourth line and not look out of place, and with strong performances he may earn that role until Ryan White’s return.

 

NATHAN BEAULIEU
Left Defenseman
6’2”, 194 lbs
21 years old

One has to feel for Greg Pateryn with the timing of this call-up. Pateryn has been Hamilton’s number one blueliner since game one this season, and has been the player on the Bulldogs’ roster most deserving of a call-up. But Pateryn had a rare off-night Sunday while continuing to work on chemistry with his new partner Jarred Tinordi, while Beaulieu has been at his best over the past five games, rounding into form after early season struggles.

Beaulieu is no stranger to Hab fans, but for those who forget, his game is most defined by his speed. He is an effortless skater, not unlike a Scott Nidermayer, while flashing stickhandling prowess that may remind some of a P.K. Subban. With 14 points in 32 games this season, he is slightly behind the pace he set in his rookie campaign, but a majority of his production came in the second half last year, and we seemed to be heading down a similar path at the time of his call-up. His shot is his biggest weapon in the offensive zone, both hard and accurate, though he can at times be single-minded with it, not making optimal use of his teammates particularly when rushing the puck.

With Montreal’s struggles on the blueline, it would be fair to assert that any of Beaulieu, Pateryn, or Tinordi would be an upgrade on Francis Bouillon, Doug Murray, Raphael Diaz, or even Alexei Emelin (at least on right defense, which would allow Emelin to move to his natural left side). Even more critical is to start breaking the prospects in this season, as it is a recipe for disaster to try to fit two or even all three into the line-up all at once. If Beaulieu can prove he belongs, one of the other rearguards may join him in Montreal later this season, setting up the transition from departing veterans for 2014-15.

It’s interesting that the Canadiens chose a left d-man over a right D like Pateryn given the depth at either position, with the negative being that it further reduces the chances of seeing Emelin move back over to his natural left side in the near future.

 

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