Monday, April 2, 2012

The Cases of Danny Kristo and Nathan Beaulieu

With less than one week remaining in a painful regular season for Montreal Canadiens fans, the organization has taken care of the business of signing most of its prospects for next year well ahead of their respective deadlines.    In fact, only two dossiers remain open in the post-Pierre Gauthier era, being those of Danny Kristo and Nathan Beaulieu.  Each is different, and each is slightly out of the ordinary, so here we look at what the hold-ups might be, and why it is important for them to be addressed in the near future.

Danny Kristo

As an NCAA prospect, Kristo is subject to different rules than those in the CHL or European leagues.  The Canadiens will retain Kristo's rights throughout his NCAA playing career, giving them more time to evaluate him as a prospect before having to make any decisions.

Kristo was Montreal's first selection in 2008, in the 2nd round, and spent the following season playing alongside Louis Leblanc with the USHL's Omaha Lancers.  Following a strong WJC for the American team and a good first year in College with 36 points in 41 games, he rose to be one of the Canadiens' top prospects, but the following season, rumours of off-ice issues and a scary bout of frostbite derailed his development a bit.  He rebounded in 2011-12, putting up his best offensive performance to date with 45 points in 42 games, which should put the crafty 5'11" winger back into the Habs' plans for the future.

Kristo has one year left of NCAA eligibility, meaning he doesn't have to be signed this summer.  However, as an individual player, he has little left to prove at that level, so the best thing for both him and the Canadiens would be to come to an agreement this summer and start next Fall with the Hamilton Bulldogs.  There is a little wrinkle in this plan, which is that a strange clause in NHL rules for NCAA prospects gives Kristo an out.  The native of Eden Prairie, Minnesota, has a window of until June 1st by which he is permitted to notify the Canadiens that he is dropping out of college but will not sign with them, which would make him an unrestricted free agent and thus able to sign with any NHL club.  Of course, doing so can speak volumes about a young man's character, and Kristo himself has recently stated that if he is to leave College this summer, it would be for the Canadiens (though he also said he has yet to make up his mind about going Pro), but it is still a legitimate threat and a good reason to get him signed as early as the team can.  If Kristo does not exercise this option, however, the Canadiens will retain his rights until August 2013.

The Canadiens have a few other college prospects they may consider signing, but with a lot of fresh faces already set to join the Bulldogs in September, it is likely that Steve Quailer, Dustin Walsh, and Mac Bennett remain with their respective teams for another year.

Nathan Beaulieu

For a CHL prospect, the "typical" path is to play two years in the league after being drafted before signing a pro deal and moving on to the ECHL/AHL/NHL.  This is because of an AHL rule for this category of player whereby they need to turn 20 by the end of December of their AHL rookie season to be able to start a year in the league.  As a late birthday for his draft class (December 5th), though he was only selected last June, Beaulieu meets the criteria necessary to go pro over the summer and join fellow prospects Jarred Tinordi, Morgan Ellis, and Greg Pateryn with the 'Dogs in 2012-13.

Like with Kristo, the Canadiens are in no true rush with Beaulieu, having the option of returning him to Saint John as an overager while retaining his rights for another year.  But for a defenseman who won a Memorial Cup last season, represented Canada in the World Juniors this year (and will be ineligible next year due to age), set personal bests in assists and points (nearly a point per game) this season, and is likely to compete in the Memorial Cup with one of the CHL's top teams again this year, there would seem to be little left to achieve at the Junior level.

While Beaulieu looked good in training camp last year, I'm not suggesting rushing him to the NHL.  I am suggesting beginning his first pro contract in the Fall, however, though - unlike with Kristo - there are no early deadlines that prevent the team from waiting to evaluate him at one of their summer rookie development camps.  Not signing him would be a strange move that would almost certainly delay the Ontarian's path to the big league.

With Beaulieu signed, the 'Dogs defense will undergo a complete overhaul from the current disappointing season, helped by the addition of four high potential young men, two of the offensive variety and two primarily defensive.

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