Beaulieu determined to bounce back from 2017-18 season

The Sabres defenseman let last season eat him up after a career-low year

Brayton Wilson
September 15, 2018 - 11:51 am

Photo: Brad Mills - USA TODAY Sports

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Nathan Beaulieu's first season in a Buffalo Sabres uniform could not have gone any worse.

The 25-year-old defenseman, who was acquired in a trade from the Montreal Canadiens last year, ended up tying his career-worst numbers statistically with one goal and nine points in 59 games played. However, it was more than just the stats that made him feel that he had the worst season of his NHL career.

"A season like that when you finish 31st in the league and, from a personal standpoint, not playing as many games as I want to being injured and not being healthy, the whole year was kind of a disaster for me. It was unfortunate," Beaulieu said following practice on Saturday at HarborCenter. 

"I let it eat me up for a little bit. This is kind of new grounds for me, I've never really been in this situation. It's kind of my first year in the NHL that didn't go my way at all personally and from a team standpoint. It was a career-low for me. It's not something I want to define me or I want to see the fans of Buffalo to know me that way."

The Sabres acquired Beaulieu in June of 2017, and shortly after signed him to a two-year deal with an average annual value of $2.4 million.

Beaulieu was able to make the Sabres' roster from the start of the season, but was hampered during the season by injuries and inconsistent play. The Strathroy, Ontario native is more of the offensive-type of defenseman, but the production on the ice was nothing of which he put up in his time with the Canadiens. Often times, Beaulieu became more of a liability on the ice with his play in all three zones than of him being a contributor to success.

While Beaulieu may have taken last season to heart, it has been made clear that the Sabres organization has all the faith in the world that he can turn things around for the 2018-19 season.

"I've been accepted with open arms here from the top to bottom with [general manager Jason Botterill] and [head coach Phil Housley]," Beaulieu said. "They've been communicating with me, we talked four or five times over the summer. It seems like they believe in me more than I believe in myself. That's awesome. They know what I'm capable of doing. They brought me in here for a reason, and they kept their word in giving me every opportunity. It's my turn to keep my word, play my game and give this team and this city what they deserve out of me."

In the time that he took off to re-evaluate himself, Beaulieu was able to come to a realization that he was going to have to put in some extra work to get back to his game and earn a spot on the roster once again.

"There were some highs, there were some lows, but the biggest thing was to figure out what I was doing wrong and really let it soak in so it doesn't happen again," Beaulieu said. "We had a long offseason, I took a couple of weeks to let it go through my mind and see where everything went wrong. You don't really know how big of a funk you were really in until you get out of it. It was a good stepping stone for me, and I believe as a person and as my career goes on, I feel that was going to be good for me. You know, seeing that low and you don't wanna be back there. I know what I am capable of doing. They believe in me here, and it's my turn to go out there and show everyone what I can do."

Another task that Beaulieu was hoping to get accomplished before coming back to Buffalo this season was getting fully healthy.

"Obviously with my concussions, I worked a lot with my eyes and trying just to get my body back to 100-percent," Beaulieu said. "Working on cardio, getting my legs going. The way we want to play is we're going to be up and down the ice, so you have to be able to skate. Before coming here, I was playing 22, 23 minutes a night, so you have to be able to move. The biggest thing was coming into shape, so I'm in great shape and ready to go."

Heading into training camp this season, head coach Phil Housley made it clear that the players were going to work harder than ever and compete in order to be ready for this season. That came as no surprise to Beaulieu, with the team finishing last season as the worst team in the NHL.

"I had a good talk with Phil, and he talked to all of the [defensemen] the same way - you have to come back and everyone has to earn a spot, you're not going to be given it," Beaulieu said. "With how much depth we have right now, there's a lot of guys that are good NHLers and can play here. It's just a matter of who's going to fill what spot. Competition isn't always necessarily a bad thing. It will bring the best out of all of us."

Another thing that Beaulieu feels will give him an advantage this training camp and preseason is the face that he has had a full season with the Sabres to finally feel in the loop.

"Obviously a lot more comfortable coming in this year, knowing a lot of the guys throughout the organization," Beaulieu stated. "You want competition coming into camp. It usually brings out the best in everyone. I accept it willingly, and I'm very confident right now. I feel good about myself, I feel good about my game. It's going to be exciting. There's going to be a lot of changes, a lot of moving around, seeing who's going to play with you. Competition is going to be there and I accept it with open arms."

Last year, Beaulieu had gotten some work in with defenseman Zach Bogosian, and both had seemed to play well with one another before an injury to Bogosian set him out of the lineup for an extended period of time. This year, it is Bogosian who is paired with Beaulieu once again as Housley tries to re-kindle the chemistry that was created last preseason.

"Obviously you're a little anxious to see who you be starting out with, but there will be a lot of moving around. Me and [Bogosian] started off the preseason last season, and then he had the unfortunate injury that ended his season, and I was kind of all over the place last season with my injuries and not being healthy. It's good because we started off really well together, we gelled real well on and off the ice. It was nice to see that they gave us that vote of confidence off the top."

At camp on Saturday, things looked relatively the same with line rushes for each session as Group B was first to take the ice at HarborCenter. Defenseman Devante Stephens was on the ice with Group B after spending time with Group A on Friday. He skated on a pairing with Will Borgen. Kevin Porter went from skating with Borgen on Friday to switching in and out of the fourth line center role with Sean Malone.

With Group A, Vasily Glotov was given the job of skating on the blue line alongside defenseman Zach Redmond. 

The Sabres return to practice on Sunday at 9:45 a.m. before taking part in a scrimmage at 10:30 a.m. at KeyBank Rink in HarborCenter. The scrimmage is free and open to the public.

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