VANCOUVER, British Columbia — Their best centermen showing some wear on the tires, the Bruins Friday night broke from their best-defenseman-available template and chose John Beecher, a 6-foot-3-inch, 210-pound center, with their first pick (No. 30) in the NHL amateur entry draft here at the Rogers Arena.
Beecher, from Elmira, N.Y., is a long way from knocking Patrice Bergeron and Davie Krejci off the payroll, but he adds to a coterie of young centers who one day could be varsity Black-and-Gold pivots.
After spending the last two years with the US National Development Team in Plymouth, Mich., Beecher will enter the University of Michigan in September as a freshman and he is likely to play there for two years before considering making the leap to the pros.
“I couldn’t be more happy to go to the organization,” said Beecher, who was overshadowed by some elite talent on the National program, in part why he was still available late in Round 1. “I’m a big power forward. I used my size and speed to my advantage. I think my game really translates well to Boston. So I am a guy who gains a lot of momentum for my team . . . it’s exciting.”
The pick alone caused some drama on the draft floor when the Bruins were placed on the clock just after 11 p.m. General manager Don Sweeney stood up when the Bruins were called and huddled with his assistants, including scouting boss Scott Bradley, and they were still talking at the table when the three-minute time limit expired.
Sweeney later noted that the internal debate was whether to make the pick on Beecher or choose a couple of options: 1. Move the pick in a deal that would bring a current NHL player to the Bruins; 2. Trade down, likely for a pick in the second round, that also would have brought the Bruins another pick in the draft.
“All of the above,” said Sweeney, when asked about those options.
When asked the identity of the NHL player the Bruins had in mind, clearly a rhetorical question, Sweeney only smiled. The Globe noted in Thursday’s editions that the Bruins could be pursuing ex-BC Eagle Chris Kreider, the speedy winger who is believed to be on the move from the Rangers.
Sweeney sounded satisfied with the move to add Beecher, while noting he will have to “grow” his game in certain areas — true of virtually all 18-year-olds. It was Beecher’s size and speed that most intrigued Sweeney.
“We looked at the athleticism, the size, the skating ability,” said Sweeney, named NHL GM of the Year earlier in the week. “We just felt he obviously could play two positions, something we talked about an awful lot. There is growth left in his game — he is obviously a big strong guy . . . we believe there is still growth available.
“He doesn’t necessarily pop offensively, because he hasn’t been put in those siuations. But he is going to be a hard guy to play against.”
By the time the Bruins finally had their kick at the can, all the elite American stock had long been cleaned out of the cupboard. No surprise. The US National Development Program had six skaters ranked among the top 12 North American skaters entering the draft, along with top-ranked goalie Spencer Knight.
The Bruins, parked in the No. 30 spot, only could sit and watch as one Yank after another got picked off — all seven of them gone in the top 15 picks.
Matt Boldy, the lone Massachusetts player ranked among the US elite, went in the No. 12 spot to the Minnesota Wild. Boldy, from Millis, Mass., played a year at Dexter prior to playing the last two seasons with the NTDP. He is headed in the fall to Boston College, where he’ll be joined by Knight, who was selected by the Florida Panthers at No. 132.
Beecher likes to consider Blake Wheeler, the former Bruin forward, as his prototype.
“I try to model my after a guy like Blake Wheeler,” he said. “I mean, you watch him play, and he’s a big guy. He can skate at the same time. He’s really developed his game since he’s been in his league. He gives me something to shoot for. He’s a leader on the [Jets]. He does everything the right way.
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The Bruins, who only last Wednesday fell to the Blues in Game 7 of the Cup Final, will open the 2019-20 season on Thursday, Oct. 3 in Dallas and will face the Coyotes 48 hours later in Phoenix.
Boston’s first game on Causeway St. will be Saturday, Oct. 12 vs. the New Jersey Devils, with time of puck drop not to be revealed until this Tuesday, 12:05 p.m., when the NHL releases its master schedule for the 31-team league.
The Bruins will have gone 113 days between games when they face off in Dallas in the Stars’ home opener.
The partial NHL schedule released on Friday, detailing home openers, did not list starting times for any of the games.
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Some of the old familiar faces at the Bruins draft table included Tommy McVie, P.J. Axelsson, Sven Svensson, Scott Bradley and John Ferguson, Jr. . . . Arguably the best draft for the Bruins in recent history came in 2014, when they followed the Pastrnak pick by selecting Ryan Donato (56), Danton Heinen (116), Anders Bjork (146) and Emil Johansson (206). The lone defenseman in the bunch, Johansson, is also the only one of the five not to have played in the NHL . . . Andersson played his first of elite level hockey last season in Sweden, logging a modest 0-5—5 line during his 41 games with Sodertalje. The Bruins surrendered three picks in this year’s draft as chips in prior trades. They yielded their second-round pick to the Devils in February when they picked up Marcus Johansson, a deal in which they also gave up a fourth-rounder in 2020. Their fourth-rounder this year went to Chicago in Feb. 2018 when they added Tommy Wingels, who played in Switzerland (Geneve Servette) this past last season.
The Bruins also gave up this year’s seventh-round pick to the Rangers in the Nash deal. The Blueshirts in turn wheeled the pick to the Hurricanes.