Montreal Canadiens select Nathan Beaulieu with 17th pick in the NHL draft

ST. PAUL, Minn. – The Montreal Canadiens went with a winner, taking defenceman Nathan Beaulieu with the 17th pick at the NHL draft.

Beaulieu had 12 goals and 33 assists in 65 regular-season games for the Memorial Cup champion Saint John Sea Dogs of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League.

He added four goals and 13 assists in 19 playoff games and a goal and two assists in the Memorial Cup.

”My dad is French-Canadian and he’s pretty excited, but not as much as me,” said Beaulieu, a native of Strathroy, Ont., who says he now will try to learn French.

”Its pretty cool. I definitely want to take steps to learn,” he said.

Apart from P.K. Subban, the Habs have an aging defence with the likes of Jaroslav Spacek, Hal Gill and Andrei Markov, although in recent weeks they signed strong defence prospects Rafael Diaz and Alexei Yemelin. Beaulieu is likely to spend at least another year with his junior club.

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In Beaulieu, the Canadiens have a strong skating, puck-moving defenceman who some compare to the flashy Subban.

”He’s maybe a guy whose footsteps I can follow,” added the six-foot-one Beaulieu, who was ranked fifth among North American skaters by Central Scouting. ”I slipped a bit but I don’t mind slipping if I end up in an organization like this. I’m pretty happy right now.”

Montreal, which signed Markov to a US$17.25-million, three-year extension this week, finished with a 44-30-8 record in 2010-11.

The Canadiens lost in seven games in the first round of the playoffs to the eventual Stanley Cup champion Boston Bruins.