Could the acquisition of former Tampa Bay Lightning’s Nikita Nesterov spell the end of Nathan Beaulieu’s time in Montreal? As news broke of the impending trade during the Canadiens game against the New York Islanders last week, many fans questioned the reasoning behind the deal. With Shea Weber, Andrei Markov, Jeff Petry, Alexei Emelin, Nathan Beaulieu, Greg Pateryn and a combination of Zach Redmond and Mark Barbiero, one must believe that the Habs, when healthy, are set on the blueline with 8 eligible defensemen that could play and be relied upon. That’s a lot of depth at defense, even for a GM like Marc Bergevin who has always mentioned that you can never have too many defensemen for a long playoff run.
Now with the addition of Nesterov, a 5’11 defenseman, in exchange for Jonathan Racine and a 6th round pick in the 2017 NHL Entry Draft, the Canadiens now deploy 9 NHL defenseman on their roster. Born in Chelyabinsk, Russia, the 23 year old Nesterov has the ability to play both at forward and on defense, a trait that the Habs could definitely use in matchup purposes. There is a possibility here for the Habs to use Nesterov in a similar fashion to Mark Streit during Streit’s brief two years in Montreal. Don’t fool yourself, Nesterov isn’t a top 4 defenseman, but through 119 NHL games, he has put up some respectable numbers with the Lightning.
|2014 – 15||27||3||4||7||6|
|2015 – 16||57||3||6||9||-6|
|2016 – 17||35||3||9||12||-3|
But what does this all mean for the Habs and in particular Nathan Beaulieu. Beaulieu’s season so far has gone up and down more frequently than a roller coaster ride. Spotted in as the number 2 defenseman, pairing with Shea Weber for the first few games of the season, Michel Therrien quickly demoted Beaulieu to the 3rd pair after his early season struggles. However, with Andrei Markov going down to injury, Beaulieu’s game stepped up in December, with multiple nights of 23+ minutes per game. His game has declined a bit recently, along with Jeff Petry, but Beaulieu still has that potential to become a top 4 defenseman.
There is no doubt that with his size, age and puck moving ability, Beaulieu is one of a few Habs that is tradeable and has value on the trading market. If Bergevin is looking to add a top 6 talent up front, one would speculate that Nathan Beaulieu or prospects Mikhail Sergachev and Noah Juulsen would be involve in some sort of package. There has also been talks all season long of the Habs adding a top 4, left handed defenseman to pair up with Shea Weber, one that the Canadiens had hope Beaulieu would be able to fill. If that was the case, by adding another defenseman, Beaulieu would most likely be the one traded, with already a log jam of active NHL defenseman on the roster.
Do I think Nesterov can replace Beaulieu? No, Nesterov doesn’t have the same skill set, size and ability as Beaulieu. But I do think Nesterov can fill in as the number 6 or 7 defenseman on the team, should Bergevin use Beaulieu as trade bait for a top 6 forward or top 4 defenseman. With Carey Price’s and Max Pacioretty’s cap friendly contract up in 2 years, Shea Weber now 31 years old and Tomas Plekanec and Andrei Markov near the end of their respective careers, the time to go all in is now. If it takes Beaulieu and a couple of picks to acquire a Matt Duchene type of player, Bergevin and company must carefully indulge the idea. Let just put it this way, I rather lose a Nathan Beaulieu than a grade A prospect like Mikhail Sergachev in a “win now” type of trade.