VANCOUVER, British Columbia — John Beecher, the newest Bruin who could be somebody, is 6 feet 3 inches, with ample speed, some weight (210 pounds), a long reach, and the requisite 18-year-old’s smile that could light up any NHL arena.
Question is: Can he play in NHL arenas?
Answer: Wait at least a couple of years. And, please, check back regularly at this space on those cold winter nights when the Bruins are looking to wring out more offense during the season’s 82-game regular-season meat grinder.
“We believe there is growth still available,” said Bruins GM Don Sweeney, reflecting on the Bruins’ first pick, No. 30 overall, when the NHL staged its first round of the amateur entry draft Friday night. “He doesn’t necessarily pop offensively — because he hasn’t been put in those situations. But he’s going to be a really hard guy to play against.”
Consider Beecher a reach pick, a kid overshadowed by more ready-for-NHL talent on the heralded US National Team Development Program. In the NHL’s Central Scouting Bureau rankings, Beecher was rated the 49th-best North American skater in the draft, part of the reason why one veteran NHL team personnel man raised eyebrows and rolled eyes when asked Saturday about the Bruins plucking Beecher at the bottom of Round 1.
Keep in mind, the entire exercise is subjective, folks. The Bruins in 2017 made a similar edge-of-the-radar move when they used their first pick, No. 18, on Finnish defenseman Urho Vaakanainen. Again, rolled eyes from other NHL tables on the draft floor. Two years later, Vaakanainen looks like he could land a varsity job out of this September’s training camp.
If the Bruins are correct, Beecher is a growth pick, a kid who will play at least the next two years at the University of Michigan, earn regular work on the top two lines, build his confidence, and then assess his option around turning pro. It’s rare these days, but some kids choose to stay in Division 1 for the full four years and then hit the marketplace as an emancipated free agent. Example: Harvard’s Jimmy Vesey fielding bids far and wide in the summer of 2016.
The Beecher pick, at this hour, is reminiscent of then-GM Peter Chiarelli using Boston’s first pick in 2008 on towering forward Joe Colborne. The 6-5 center was off radar, remained there a while, and ultimately disappeared off the screen. Less than three years later, the Bruins folded him into a deal with two other picks (Round 1, Round 2) that added Tomas Kaberle for the successful 2011 Cup run. Championships have a way of masking all boo-boos.
Beecher is big, fast, athletic, good at the faceoff dot, and the Bruins are convinced he has the character that fits their team-building model. He likes Blake Wheeler, the former strapping Bruins forward who signed as a college free agent (see above) and also was wheeled out of town prior to the Cup run.
All good. Maybe.
By Sweeney’s eye, Beecher, from Elmira, N.Y., was overshadowed at the NTDP by an elite group of kids, seven of whom were drafted ahead of him in Round 1. One of those players, Jack Hughes, went No. 1 Friday night to the Devils as a sure-shot superstar. Another primo US center, Alex Turcotte, went No. 5 to the Kings.
Part of Sweeney’s motivation in grabbing Beecher was another form of growth — the aging of the Bruins’ top two varsity centers, Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci. Bergeron will be 34 next month and Krejci just turned 33. Note from Father Time: Not everyone is like Zdeno Chara, able to stick a finger in the Old Man’s eye. Beecher on Friday night became one of the kids in the waiting room, hoping for his own long run on Causeway Street.
“We’re looking at our center-ice position from the future standpoint,” noted Sweeney. “Where we sit right now, we are comfortable . . . but going forward we have to fill in behind some guys who have been very prolific in Boston. I think with Jack [Studnicka] and Freddie [Trent Frederic] and Charlie [Coyle] — obviously Patrice and Krech are still there — and [Sean] Kuraly is another — we have the makings to, hopefully, carry forward.”
Next manchild up: Beecher.
“A big thing I’ve been working on is down-low play,” said Beecher, asked the areas of his game he would like to grow. “In the offensive zone, that means being able to spin off a guy and attack the net. I think that’ll take my game to the next level.”
That immediate next level is Michigan, home of Tom Brady, who long ago was considered a reach when the Patriots made him a Round 6 draft pick in 2000.
No one rolls their eyes over sixth-round picks. Nearly 20 years later, Brady is a legend and it takes the most ardent Pats fan to remember that Chad Pennington was the first quarterback taken in that draft and Adrian Klemm was the Patriots’ top pick the same year.
It’s the draft. Stocked full of 18-year-olds. Full of dreams. Full of guesswork, with varying degrees of education behind those guesses.
One long-time wag on the Bruins beat late Friday night kidded Sweeney, a Harvard grad, that Michigan, in case he was unaware, is considered the Harvard of the Midwest.
“Well,” said Sweeney, wry smile spreading as he crafted his answer, “hopefully they’re going to develop him as well as Harvard develops ’em.”
Wicked smart, like we say at home. Beecher’s course work, and the heavy lifting, begin in September.