Prospect Profile: Josh Beaulieu
Friday, 12.08.2006 / 12:00 AM / News
Some players are defined purely on the basis of the numbers they produce: goals, assists and points. That is the bottom line, in every literal and figurative sense.
Others are judged by the intangibles they bring to the table; the little things that don't always register on the scoreboard, but are nonetheless essential ingredients to the success of any team. Without question, London Knights forward Josh Beaulieu falls into that category.
Beaulieu, 19, was selected by the Flyers in the fifth round (152nd overall) of the 2005 NHL Entry Draft. Now performing in his fourth, and likely final season in the Ontario Hockey League, he has emerged as an effective defensive forward and penalty killer and chief agitator for one of most successful organizations in major junior hockey.
"It sure isn't glamorous," Beaulieu explained of his role with the Knights. "But, it is fun. Sure, scoring goals is great, but I also love my job: digging in the trenches, riling up the other team, dropping the gloves on occasion. Basically, just doing whatever it is I have to do to help increase our chances of winning every night. It's great.
"Plus," he added with a laugh, "it makes it even better when you do break through and get to score a goal or two. You learn to savor every one."
Lessons in Life
A native of Comber, Ontario, Beaulieu doesn't remember a time when hockey was not a major part of his life.
"I guess you would have to say that mine is the typical Canadian story," he explained. "I was raised on hockey, was on the ice by the time I was three and have basically been playing all my life. My mom says I took to it right away after they put my first pair of skates on. I honestly have no memory of that, so I'll have to take her word for it.
"But seriously, it has always been a passion of mine. Not just playing, but watching the game, studying the game, and reading as much about it and its history as I can. Even today, I follow the game at different levels on the Internet. I try to learn as much as possible."
Beaulieu credits his parents not just for the success he has attained thus far in his career, but for instilling in him the virtues of hard work and sacrifice.
"I learned at a very young age the value of a strong work ethic," he said. "I saw the sacrifices [my parents] made for me to be where I'm at today. Not just buying the expensive equipment and stuff like that, but getting up early to get me to practices, traveling with me to games and things like that…just going out of their way to give me an opportunity to pursue my dreams.
"Maybe I didn't always appreciate it as much as I should have, but I do now. The only way I feel I can repay them is to be thankful for the chances they've given me and work as hard as I can at what I do. They deserve no less, and I want to make them proud."
Being able to rely on the support of a very tight-knit family -- which also includes two older brothers and a twin sister -- has helped Beaulieu keep an even keel in the midst of the challenges he's faced.
"I know I'm lucky," he noted. "Some families aren't as close or aren't even together. But we're always there for each other. Through every level I've competed at, I've always been able to take comfort in knowing that my family is right there behind me. Even now, it gets tough sometimes, being on the road and having to balance hockey and school. But, I know they're always just a phone call away if I need them."
Growing up, Beaulieu did not have a particularly favorite team. Nor was there any one player whom he idolized or tried to emulate more than others.
"I've always been passionate about the sport itself," he explained. "I followed every aspect of the NHL. If I had to pick one team that I enjoyed watching most, I guess it would be the Colorado Avalanche. I've always loved watching Joe Sakic play. And, those Stanley Cup-winning teams, with [Peter] Forsberg and [Patrick] Roy, were really incredible."
Colorado, ironically, is where Beaulieu's head coach in London, Dale Hunter, played the final 12 games of his NHL career. Hunter, of course, carved out a reputation as one of the league's more notorious gritty players over a 19-year span with the Quebec Nordiques and Washington Capitals.
He ranks second on the all-time NHL penalty minute list with 3,565, but also notched an impressive 1020 points (323 goals, 697 assists) in 1,407 total games.
After he hung up his skates at the end of the 1998-99 season, Hunter, along with his brother Mark (also a former NHL'er) purchased the Knights, and set out to change the fortunes of the struggling franchise. With Dale as coach and Mark the general manager, the brothers completely rebuilt the Knights' scouting network and spearheaded the movement that culminated in the construction of the new John Labatt Centre.
It didn't take long for the Hunters to completely turn the Knights around. An ongoing era of success would follow, highlighted by the team's dominant march to the Memorial Cup championship in 2004-05.
"This is the situation I came into," explained Beaulieu. "London picked me, I think, in the second round of the 2003 OHL draft, out of the Sun County AAA program. It was a big step moving up for me, but I was coming to a team that was on the verge of big things. I've known nothing but winning since I got here. The situation couldn't have been any more ideal for me."
Or for the men at the helm.
"When we began the process of restructuring the organization, we looked specifically for character players, young men who we could count on in challenging situations," explained Mark Hunter, in a postseason interview last spring. "We were able to construct a potent offensive lineup with players like Corey Perry, Robbie Schremp, [David] Bollard and Dylan [Hunter] (Dale's son), but we never strayed from being a heart-and-soul kind of team.
"Josh is kind of the embodiment of that. He came to us as a 16-year-old [in 2003-04] and had to wait a little while for his real shot. We played him in a somewhat limited role at first, but saw his potential all along. He was a solid contributor to our Memorial Cup run and has really blossomed as an all-around player since then."
Dale concurred, also in an interview towards the end of last season:
"I would say that Josh has come a long way. He's a hard-working kid, takes nothing for granted. He was the type of player we were looking to add when we [drafted] him, and we're proud to have him here."
Does Dale see any similarities between Josh and himself?
"Sure, there are some," he said. "If you look at our respective styles of play, yes, Josh is a physical player. He goes all out and does whatever he can to help the team. He's a real gamer and a winner."
Beaulieu made his OHL debut in 2003-04, appearing in 41 games for London while also splitting time with the Strathroy Rockets at the Junior "B" level. He joined the Knights full-time the following season, registering a very respectable 22 points (nine goals, 13 assists) and 159 PIMs in 65 games for a team that many consider to be one of the best in major junior history.
After beginning the season in a limited checking line role, Beaulieu saw his big break come when many of the Knights' top players were away competing at the World Junior Championships in late December/early January.
"Josh really showed us something during that time," Dale Hunter stated. "He was basically given the chance to show what he could do and he stepped up. We had some big name players away at the World Junior Championships and we really didn't miss a beat. Josh was one of the guys that helped make that possible. He did a little bit of everything for us and proved to be very effective, basically cementing his spot on the team."
Beaulieu returned to his regular role on the third and fourth lines after the WJC concluded. His ice time was reduced accordingly at first, but he continued to show improvement in all areas of his game and became one of the Knights' most reliable penalty killers. He also began to earn a reputation as an agitating physical force willing to stand up for and protect his teammates.
"I knew it would be important to make an impression then," Beaulieu explained. "This team was ready to challenge for the Memorial Cup. You could feel it. Everybody could. It was such an exciting time. I wanted not only to be a part of it, but to be a true contributor. So, I gave it everything I had and did my best to prove to [coach Hunter] that I belonged and could do the job, any job asked of me."
The Knights would go on to finish the regular season with an incredible 120 points (59-7-2), smashing the record of 110 they had set the previous season. Along the way, London established another league benchmark, as the team rattled off a 31-game stretch without a loss (29-0-2).
In the playoffs, the team lost only one game in three rounds, easily capturing the OHL title. The Knights ultimately made history by defeating Sidney Crosby and the Rimouski Oceanic (QMJHL), four games to none, in the Memorial Cup championship.
Beaulieu appeared in all 17 of the Knights' games during the postseason, notching five points (two goals, three assists) and 17 penalty minutes while playing sound two-way hockey.
"It was like a dream, to tell you the truth," he explained. "To be a part of that… it was just amazing. I'm really almost at a loss for words to describe it. We had such a great team, and it was such a wonderful experience. It's something I'll always keep with me and be proud of.
"Without a doubt, winning the Memorial Cup is the highlight of my career thus far. In fact, I'd say it's been the highlight of my life. Nothing can compare to it. It was just awesome."
The positive implications of a Memorial Cup championship are far-reaching, for both the winning organization on the whole and individually, its players. Many of the younger, undrafted members of the Knights roster, including Beaulieu, benefited from the increased exposure they gained in the time leading up to and during the tournament.
Whether or not Beaulieu would have been drafted in 2005 (his first year of eligibility) had he not played for London is debatable. There is little question, however, that his stock rose sharply as a direct result of the Knights' title run.
"You don't really think about it as it's happening, but looking back, yeah, I guess the eyes of scouts from every NHL team are watching you when you play in the [Memorial Cup tournament]," he said. "I feel that I played pretty well throughout the playoffs that year, just staying within myself and doing the little things right.
"Honestly, as a 17-year-old at that point, there were times when I would just sit back in amazement and watch how easy it seemed for some of my teammates to dominate the game. Having had the opportunity to play along guys like Corey Perry, Robbie Schremp, Dylan [Hunter] and Danny Fritsche was a real honor, and definitely a huge career boost for me."
Flyers General Manager Paul Holmgren, the Flyers' assistant GM at the time, shared a similar assessment.
"Definitely, one of the appeals of drafting a player like Josh is that you're getting a kid who's coming from a winning program," he explained, shortly after the draft. "Bringing in players who have already won or are used to winning helps create a more positive, confident atmosphere. You can only hope that it rubs off on other players in the system. That's definitely one thing we looked at and were excited about in selecting Josh."
As for Beaulieu's specific memories of the big day:
"It was the year of the lockout, so the draft wasn't televised," he remembers. "We were in my basement at home, basically following the whole thing on the Internet. My family, friends, my agent; basically, the people in the world who mean the most to me, they were all there.
"It was very nerve-wracking, just waiting to be selected. I was very confident that I would be picked, but being taken by the Flyers caught me completely by surprise. When my name popped up on the computer screen, I was absolutely thrilled. I can't even put my emotions at that moment into words. It was just unbelievable. Between winning the Memorial Cup and getting drafted, it was an amazingly fun time in my life."
The Knights followed up their Memorial Cup-winning season with another strong outing in 2005-06. The team took its third straight OHL regular season championship (49-15-3-1 for 102 points), but ultimately fell to another Flyers prospect, Steve Downie, and the Peterborough Petes in the postseason finals.
Despite the team falling short in its attempt to repeat, Beaulieu continued to take gradual, positive steps in his development. His stats increased only marginally – he recorded 28 points (15 goals, 13 assists) in 60 games – but Dale Hunter was more than pleased with his improved play in the defensive end and in [penalty killing] situations, as well as the emerging leadership qualities he began to display.
"I think Josh has really progressed as a hockey player," explained Holmgren. "His skating has improved, I think he's always been an intelligent player, and he's a guy that can play in a defensive role and not hurt you. He's also a guy that can create some things in the offensive zone because of the way he forechecks and the way he comes up with loose pucks or creates loose pucks."
"Last season ended on a bitter note, no question," said Beaulieu. It's especially difficult to stomach losing when you've become so conditioned to winning. I guess there is a good and a bad side to it. On a positive note, though, we've become even more resolved to coming back and winning it all again this year.
"The situation in London is a bit different, as I'm now one of the veteran players on the team. It's a natural evolution, I guess. I remember being a 16-year-old rookie, and how many of the veteran players here took to me and helped me out. Now, it's my turn to return the favor. The thing is, we have some incredible young guys on the team this year. I'm not really sure how much help they need, but I'm there for them if need be."
Indeed, with rookies like Sam Gagner and Patrick Kane (both of whom have 60 points in less than 30 games) sophomore Sergei Kostitsyn (44 points in 28 games) and a total of six players averaging well over a point per game to this point, any offense Beaulieu can provide will continue to be viewed as a bonus.
"My role is to be the top penalty killer, to go up against the opponent's top lines on most nights," he explained. "It's something I embrace. Let the scorers do their jobs. I'll try to chip in when I can, of course."
For the record, Beaulieu has 16 points (10 goals, six assists) and 80 penalty minutes in 39 games.
"It's a real challenge every night," he continued. "[The OHL] is a great league with some incredibly talented players. Some of the guys I go up against, some of these potent power play units, they are just downright scary. But, we have a real hard-working group of guys here, and have plenty of talent ourselves. We feel we're still one of the top teams in the league, and there's no doubt in our minds that we're going to challenge for the Memorial Cup again."
As with any junior player approaching the completion of his "underage" eligibility, questions about where Beaulieu will find himself playing next season have started to surface. By all indications, however, it appears that the energetic forward has the inside track toward earning his first pro contract with the Flyers.
Beaulieu turned in solid showings prior to this season in training camp with the NHL team and at a prospect mini-camp late in the summer. So much so, in fact, that he stayed in Philadelphia longer than originally expected and saw action in a handful of preseason games with the team's American Hockey League affiliate, the Phantoms.
"It was an excellent experience, getting into a few games with the Phantoms," he explained. "It was nice to get my feet wet a little bit and get a taste for the game at that level. If all goes well, I hope to be back with the Phantoms full time next year. But, I'm certainly not looking past this season with London. Whether this is my last season in the OHL or not, my focus is on playing for the Knights and nothing else right now."
Such a team-oriented mentality certainly sits well with the Flyers' brass.
"I think as Josh has matured and gotten older, he has learned to play a little bit better offensively," noted Holmgren. "I think that's part of the progression he's made as a junior. He's gotten better each year. His skating has gotten better, he's gotten stronger, and I think with that we've seen a little bit more offense in his game than maybe we did two years ago.
"I thought he had an outstanding mini-camp this year. We kept him around and played him in some preseason games with the Phantoms and I think he did quite well. He left here on a very positive note because he knew he played well and he was told we were really, really happy with him. I think Josh's chances at earning a pro contract with us are good. We'll continue to watch him for the remainder of the year and sit down at some point, I would imagine, and talk to his agent.
"We consider him one of our prospects and I think he has a future as a professional player."