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After forced exit from Habs, Beaulieu finding fit with Sabres

It didn't end well for Nathan Beaulieu in Montreal last season. The outlook is promising in Buffalo for him this year. So he's got a little bit of a message to send come Thursday night, when the Sabres open their season against the Canadiens in KeyBank Center.

"I definitely have a chip on my shoulder," Beaulieu said matter-of-factly Tuesday in HarborCenter. "I was in Montreal for quite some time, developed a good relationship with a lot of people there. It's the first time I've ever been traded and playing against a former team. Obviously there's some emotions involved. The biggest thing is just to go out there and play my game. There's no friends over there now."

The Sabres acquired Beaulieu for a third-round pick just before the expansion draft, where he was likely to be available to the Vegas Golden Knights. Montreal GM Marc Bergevin was particularly blunt on Beaulieu after the Habs' season ended with a first-round loss to the New York Rangers.

Said Bergevin in his season wrapup chat with Montreal reporters: "At some point players have to take ownership, know where their game is at."

Beaulieu was heavily scapegoated for the end of the season by Bergevin and Habs coach Claude Julien. So he was thrilled to be sent to Buffalo and the high-movement offense of new coach Phil Housley.

"I love it. It's something we didn't do as much in Montreal," he said. "Just being involved in every aspect of every play is unique. You saw them do it in Nashville and what he brought here is great. The guys like it.

"You don't want to stand on the blueline and wait for something to happen. It's more about going out and being the instigator and making things happen. So far, we bought into it early and as the season goes on it's going to work wonders for us."

Beaulieu has shifted through partners in training camp but was on the first pair with Rasmus Ristolainen at practice Tuesday.

"I've known 'Risto' playing against him the last 3-4 years and he's a special player," Beaulieu said. "I think with our skating ability and offensive instincts, we should be able to create a lot. But we have to be careful about taking care of our own zone first."

Beaulieu, 24, played a career-high 74 games for the Habs last season with four goals and 24 assists. Housley said he's a good fit for his system.

"I really like his mobility," Housley said. "He can escape the forecheck and he jumps up with the play. Timing we continue to work with him but he's willing to get up and even lead the rush at times which is great. He's got to continue to do that."

Like most players in the league, Beaulieu took note how Nashville's defensemen were playing under Housley during the Predators' run to the Stanley Cup final in June.

"The game is all about skating now and if you look at the blueline, they were probably the most mobile D-corps in the league," Beaulieu said. "That's something we want to put a fingerprint on here. The game is so fast and everything moves so quickly that you need to be prepared and react. Offensively and defensively, speed kills. That's something we're trying to bring."

Beaulieu is from Strathroy, Ont., roughly 2 1/2 hours from Buffalo in the London area. He was drafted by the Canadiens in the first round of the 2011 draft at No. 17 overall out of Saint John of the Quebec League. He played four years for the New Brunswick-based team.

"It's been great. I grew up pretty close to Buffalo, only a couple hours from here. I really like it's a blue-collar town," he said. "Everyone is really friendly. It reminds me where I played junior in Saint John. It's a small-knit community that loves their sports. So far, I've got no complaints at all."

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