With the 30th overall pick in the 2019 NHL Entry Draft, the Boston Bruins sleeted center John Beecher from the United States National Team Development Program, or USNTDP for short. Beecher, 18, stands at 6’3” and weighs 210 lbs. Beecher’s “elevator pitch” is highlighted by blazing speed and agility that usually isn’t found in players of his build and stature. Beecher was mainly designated as a bottom-six center for the USNTDP, but that isn’t exactly a reflection on his level of skill or potential.
The USNTDP saw historic results in the draft this year by having eight players selected in the first round, including Jack Hughes, the No. 1 overall pick in the draft. Jack Hughes served as the USNTDP’s first-line center. Alex Turcotte, No. 4 overall pick, served as the second-line center for the USNTDP. As a result, these two high-end prospects were understandably ahead of Beecher on the depth chart. Was Beecher in the bottom-six because of his skills or natural ability? Personally, I don’t think that’s the case. Generally speaking and simplifying the matter, I think he was in the bottom-six because the opportunity wasn’t there with Hughes and Turcotte down the middle. Let’s dive into Beecher and what this two-way forward brings to the table.
Beecher is a two-way center and probably best described as “fast.” On a straight line, he can legitimately blow by defenders with ease by skating wide and then cutting inside to gain the zone. As opposed to most players his size, he doesn’t need time and space to “get up to speed” to reach higher gears– he simply just accelerates and explodes from the start. Aside from his speed on a straight line, he’s also fast and quick in tight radiuses on his edges. He can effortlessly change directions and utilize minimum space to get to where he needs to be. He can play that typical “power forward/power center” game, but he can also play that “higher-end” skill type of game which is rather unique for his size.
Sometimes, bigger players who possess speed aren’t always able to bring agility along for the ride. That’s just the nature of size as opposed to speed, which I’m sure involves some level of physics way above my level of intellect. However, Beecher is an exception as he actually has serious high-end agility and displays it on the ice every single time he laces up his skates. You’ll certainly be able to notice his agility when he’s cutting to the inside of the attacking-zone and driving to the net. From there he’s able to effortlessly work the defense and make moves, especially if space is limited or just not there.
After Boston walked up to the podium and selected Beecher at No. 30, I had a conversation with an executive from a USHL team. When asked about the value, player and pick, this is what the executive had to say: “Good pick, [Beecher] is a big guy who can fly. Not sure about the skills or offensive ceiling, but [Beecher] is a solid two-way player…Have seen him score some nice goals against us, so I’m good with it.”
Aside from Beecher’s natural tools, there are a lot of other reasons why he was worthy of being selected in the draft at No. 30 by Boston. Beecher established himself as a go-to option with the USNTDP for late-game situations, including penalty killing and face-offs in the defensive zone. Need someone to come off the bench and protect a lead in the final minutes of the game? John Beecher is your guy. Need someone to go out there and make a statement with physicality and hard-nosed play? John Beecher in your guy.
Some Boston fans on twitter and other forums have mentioned how they think Beecher sounds a lot like Sean Kuraly in terms of style and ability, but there are some problems with that. Beecher has more high-end skill and natural talent than Kuraly does. That’s just a fact as far as I’m concerned. Many analysts and outlets had Beecher as a potential first-round pick. Kuraly is an excellent fourth-line player and has demonstrated just how clutch he can be in the playoffs, but he is still just that– a high-octane, fourth-line player who doesn’t quit or stop. Beecher brings similar qualities to the ice, but he’s able to do so against higher-end opponents in the middle-six area of the line up. If we’re looking for a comparable player, I think Charlie Coyle would be a better choice in that regard. Coyle has better hands, vision and puck-skills, but I think he’s a better comparable to Beecher than Kuraly is.
Now that I’ve talked about a lot of the positives, let’s talk about some of the negatives and drawbacks. Beecher recorded 15G-23A-48PTS in 63GP with his team, which is respectable production for the bottom-six. The biggest knocks on Beecher, according to many hockey minds greater than myself, are limited offensive potential, average puck-skills and average vision. While I think some of it is overblown with hysterics by fans upset with the pick, there is definitely some truth to that.
Beecher needs to improve his vision and offensive reads, especially when gaining the zone. Sometimes he’s too quick to dump the puck deep or force passes rather than wait an extra second (or even less) for a lane or playmaking opportunity to open. While I don’t see many red flags in his game, I do think he needs to work hard at the University of Michigan to strengthen his shortcomings on offense and elevate himself to the next level. He works hard and wants to improve, so I think he’ll get there.
With that being said, Beecher is still able to make plays and generate offense, but it’s not at the level of other high-end point getters in the 2019 NHL Draft. Is that a bad thing? No, not really, because if he were generating offense at a point-per-game rate, then he would have went much closer to the top-15 in his draft class. Whether Bruins fans agree with the pick or not, especially with offensive catalyst Arthur Kaliyev on the board, they should rest assured knowing that Beecher is absolutely worthy of being selected at No. 30. Beecher also does way more for his line and wingers than that of Arthur Kaliyev due to his exceptional two-way ability. In my opinion, that’s exactly what Boston was looking for and why they ultimately went with someone like Beecher instead of Kaliyev. Was that right or wrong? Only time will tell.
At the end of the day, Beecher projects to be a high-end, two-way middle-six center in the NHL that can gain the zone, open up space for his wingers and use his skating to beat defenders effortlessly. Given that the NHL is trending towards faster, skilled players, Beecher has one leg up on the competition because of his size, speed, agility and physicality. He’s just flat out impossible to contain sometimes and that’s a quality that can overwhelm smaller, high-skill players in the NHL. Maybe this pick is somewhat “safe,” maybe this pick is even “boring” to some, but I don’t think anything is wrong with that given that Boston owned pick No. 30 and not pick No. 18, No. 12 or something higher in the draft.