Johnny Beecher is poised to step up and step in.
A strapping 6-foot-3-inch, 212-pound center, Beecher was among the most notable skaters at the opening of Bruins rookie camp Wednesday morning at Warrior Arena.
A first-round pick in 2019, Beecher flashed nice speed and nifty hands as he led the white squad’s top line through the 90-minute session.
“I feel good,” said Beecher, 22. “I had a really productive offseason and just coming into camp open-minded and try to give everything I’ve got.”
With the Bruins losing their top two centers to retirement (Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci), Beecher is among a handful of candidates set to compete for slots on the varsity.
“It’s definitely something that you look at and it’s enticing,” said Beecher. “Obviously, everybody coming into camp wants to have a shot, and this year there’s a bunch of opportunities, so I’ve just got to go into camp and try my best.”
Johnny Beecher on his mindset heading into #NHLBruins Rookie Camp: "I feel good...I had a really productive off season and I'm coming into camp open minded and will try to give it everything I got and see what happens in the end." pic.twitter.com/1i9L8SAZft— Boston Bruins (@NHLBruins) September 13, 2023
After three seasons at Michigan, Beecher joined the Providence Bruins for a late-season twirl in 2022 (5 points in nine games). He collected 9 goals and 23 points in 61 games for the Baby B’s last season.
Beecher started off his AHL career slowly but gained a lot of traction and started to find his groove late last season. Providence coach Ryan Mougenel said Beecher’s progress was impressive.
“I can say he’s not the only player to come down to Providence and I wouldn’t necessarily say struggle but maybe had a little bit of an identity issue early on,” said Mougenel, who led Wednesday’s practice. “And by the second half, he was our go-to guy down there for a lot of situations.
“The ability to hang onto a puck and get in and be first to pucks is something that he did really well. And then the one thing we really liked about John by the end of the year was his willingness to play a physical brand of hockey.”
Mougenel explained that the jump to professional hockey can be a challenge for some, and there’s no timetable for success.
“It took time,” said Mougenel. “And the one thing we’re allotted in the American League is you have to have patience for players, especially a bigger player, to figure that out. And I think John did an amazing job of that and thinking the right way is always going to be something that we preached to our players, and it is tough.”
Mougenel has been impressed by Beecher’s skating ability, but his improvement in other areas has the Boston brass excited as well.
“The other thing that might separate John, too, is his penalty killing’s real strong,” said Mougenel, noting that Beecher has played some left wing, too. “Where do I project him? It is hard to say.
“I think when we brought up his name the other day with [Providence assistant coach] Trent Whitfield, he has the makeup to be a real good NHLer, you can see why he was drafted so high when you’re on the ice with him, he’s a huge presence and he skates extremely well, and when he hits, he hits with velocity. And I think if he can embrace that, he’s going to have longevity in the league.”
Beecher’s skills were evident as he consistently set up linemates Trevor Kuntar and John Farinacci. The trio should get a lot of run in Buffalo this weekend during the annual Prospects Challenge tournament.
“They’re both really good players,” said Beecher. “I’ve kind of known them both through just coming up, but never really had the chance to play with them, so I’m looking forward to our first game here out in Buffalo and hopefully we’re still aligned. I think we’ll click pretty well.”
The Bruins rookies will practice again Thursday at Warrior before shuffling off to Buffalo. They will play the Penguins Friday (3:30 p.m.), the Canadiens Saturday (3:30 p.m.), and finish up with the Devils Monday (10 a.m.) ... Farinacci was sporting No. 32, which was the number worn by fellow Harvard alum — and current Bruins general manager — Don Sweeney ... It’ll be homecoming weekend for Kuntar, the Boston College product who grew up in the Buffalo suburb of Williamsville ... Fabian Lysell, the club’s first-round pick in 2021, said he feels healthy after suffering a concussion in the Calder Cup playoffs last spring. “It’s my third [camp], and I’ve grown a lot both on and off the ice and I think that’s going to help me,” said Lysell, considered by many to be the franchise’s top offensive prospect. “It’s a process. It’s a month of hard work and you’re trying to prove yourself that you can play in the NHL. I’m excited for it.”