IRVINE — Defenseman Nathan Beaulieu placed a bet on himself by coming into training camp on a professional tryout and capitalized by signing a one-year, one-way contract worth $850,000 with the Ducks over the weekend.
The PTO, of course, is far from a sure thing – far more fail than succeed.
In fact, two veteran players were released from their professional tryouts on Monday – defenseman Thomas Hickey in New Jersey and forward James Neal in Columbus.
“I’ve signed a few deals now and this one honestly probably feels the best,” said the 29-year-old Beaulieu, who has played in 419 NHL games.
“Coming off double knee injuries last year and having shoulder surgery the year before has been a grind. It’s been a lot of rehab and a lot of worrying and thoughts about where the career is going to go next.
“This one feels really good.”
The surgeries to repair an ACL limited him to 24 games this past season with the Winnipeg Jets. He started his career in Montreal (225 games) and played in 89 games with the Buffalo Sabres and 105 more with the Jets, overlapping a bit in Winnipeg with another Ducks’ defenseman, Dmitry Kulikov.
(There might well be two successful PTOs in Anaheim with the way forward Rocco Grimaldi is trending – hitting the scoresheet in every preseason game he has played.)
For Beaulieu, Anaheim seemed to offer the best chance for success, largely, in part, because last season at the trade deadline the Ducks moved out two experienced players and integral parts of the defense corps in Hampus Lindholm and Josh Manson.
“It was more of just finding a place where I thought I’d fit in,” he said. “I feel like it’s a younger group and I have a little bit of experience now with helping with the younger guys. I thought there was a spot for me to try to take advantage of and I’m pretty excited with how things have gone so far.”
The left-shot defenseman brings an element of toughness and grit that the younger and skilled Ducks could use.
“It’s important – especially with a younger group,” Beaulieu said. “The presence of it is obviously important. I don’t shy away from it. It’s an element I like to bring.”
Former Edmonton Oilers and Kings defenseman Charlie Huddy coached the defense for 11 seasons in Winnipeg. During his time with the Jets, he worked with both Beaulieu and Kulikov. Huddy played 1,017 games in the NHL and was an assistant with the New York Rangers, Oilers, and Dallas Stars before joining the Jets staff in 2011-12.
While there is a need for collective toughness among the Ducks, no single player can truly step in and replace an enforcer like former Duck Nic Deslauriers. But the 6-foot-2, 205-pound Beaulieu will drop the gloves, if necessary.
“He’s not going to go looking for it but if there’s something there that has to get worked out, he won’t be afraid to do it,” Huddy said. “He’ll be big and strong in front of the net where there’s usually a lot of traffic. He’s not afraid to move guys out of the front of the net.
“There’s still a part of the game where you need that. It’s not like it was way back when there were six fights in a game. I guess I’m old school. I still think there’s a need for toughness. I still think you need it in your room especially if you’ve got a bunch of skilled guys. You need to have somebody that is going to be able to stand up for those guys and look after those guys.
“You know what it’s like once the season gets going. Teams aren’t going to let skilled guys run around. The good teams are going to go after skilled guys.”
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Huddy described Beaulieu as “low-maintenance,” which is coach-speak for the professionalism that coaches admire when trying to build chemistry in a team in transition.
“I don’t think you’d ever question how hard he is going to play,” Huddy said. “He takes pride in playing hard. Great on the PK (penalty kill), blocking shots and throwing his body in front of any shots coming toward the net.
“If he played 12 minutes or if he played 18 minutes, he wasn’t complaining. He just wanted to do well and help the team win. That was the big thing for me.”
The Ducks reduced their roster to 33 players on Monday, sending four more players to their AHL affiliate in San Diego: centers Benoit-Olivier Groulx, Josh Lopina, and Danny O’Regan and defenseman Austin Strand.
Additionally, forward Chase De Leo and Justin Kirkland and defenseman Olli Juolevi were placed on waivers