MONTREAL — Anthony Beauvillier couldn’t be sure of exactly how many friends and family members will be at the Bell Centre since COVID-19 protocols still prohibit postgame meet-and-greets. Suffice to say, the Islanders left wing knows there will be a noticeable patch of blue and orange in the stands.
Thursday night’s game against the Canadiens marks the Islanders’ first in Canada in front of fans since March 10, 2020, because of the pandemic and Beauvillier grew up about an hour outside of Montreal in Sorel-Tracy, Quebec. The Islanders reached the NHL semifinals in 2020 playing in neutral-site playoff bubbles in Toronto and Edmonton.
"I wouldn’t say it feels more special, it’s just always nice to come back here and play in front of friends and family," Beauvillier said before the Islanders resumed their 13-game road trip. "It’s a privilege to play here in the Bell Centre. I try to make the most of it every time I’m here. I’m pumped. It’s been a while that we’ve been in Canada."
Beauvillier scored twice in five previous NHL games at Bell Centre, his last goal coming Jan. 15, 2018.
He entered Thursday with three goals and an assist in the Islanders’ first seven games and two goals in their previous three games, including a power-play tally in Saturday’s 3-2 shootout loss at Nashville.
The 24-year-old is already in his sixth season with the Islanders and agreed to a three-year, $12.45 million extension in the offseason. He notched a career-high 21 goals in 2017-18 and a career-high 21 assists and 39 points in 2019-20 before the pandemic forced the halt to the Islanders’ season after 68 games.
Coach Barry Trotz predicted Beauvillier was due for a "breakout season."
"He’s grown as a player," Trotz said. "His confidence has grown. He’s been a very important player for us. My trust in him continues to grow. I think he’s going to have a breakout season where he’s going to have a big jump in totals. If it happens this year or next year, I’m not sure. But I think it’s coming."
Trotz added he expects that "big jump in totals" because Beauvillier has learned not to focus on his point production as he’s matured as a player.
"He put so much value into point totals that his focus got away from the 100 other things he can do away from the puck," Trotz said. "You probably have the puck when you’re on the ice maybe 4-5% of the time. So, it’s probably more important what you do without the puck. I think he got more balance into that and understanding. Once he’s done that, he’s become a very complete player for us. There’s not a situation I can think of, other than playing goal, that I don’t use him."
Beauvillier averaged 16:56 of ice time through the first seven games, including an average of 2:23 on the power play. He even averaged 17 seconds of penalty-kill time.
Relayed Trotz’s comments, Beauvillier said having a new contract — he can be an unrestricted free agent for the first time when it expires — plays a role in his comfort level this season.
"For myself, I think it’s a little bit both maturity as well as being here for three more years," Beauvillier said. "I think I feel more comfortable with those things and less in my head about that. I think Barry and I have had good talks over the years about just focusing on the right things and just talking about how I’m still a good player even though I don’t put any points on the scoresheet."