Have you heard about Bruins first-round draft pick John Beecher’s skating?
Of course you have. It’s the first thing anyone wants to talk about when the subject of the 30th overall pick in the 2019 NHL Draft’s name comes up in conversation.
“I mean the skating just stands out,” were the first words out of Bruins general manager Don Sweeney’s mouth when he was asked about the 6-foot-3, 209-pound center after Boston’s development camp wrapped up last month.
If Beecher were a superhero, we know what his superpower would be. Every hero has an origin story, and here’s a little bit of what got Beecher, who turned 18 in April, to this point, as told to WEEI.com by the people who’ve nurtured Beecher along the way.
Learning to skate
Beecher’s father Bill knew Dean Jackson from their connections to Elmira College. So it made sense for the elder Beecher to ask Jackson, who over the years was an Elmira men’s assistant coach and the head coach of the Soaring Eagles’ women’s team.
“I think he was probably about, I don’t know, 10 or 11 when he first started bringing him to me,” Jackson said. “Of course I think what you see now is obviously a lot of effort on his part, but he just really got the fundamentals down.”
Jackson remembers that it wasn’t long before he turned to Bill and told him that he was in for some fun as John developed. Skating, combined with an early growth spurt, had already set up Beecher for success.
“I think obviously with his size and his length he has a lot of length, right, and he uses that to his advantage. You see how long his stride, it generates a lot of power, he’s pushing off a lot of ice,” said Jackson, who’s now an assistant for the Cornell women’s team. “That helps. … But I think that just sheer athleticism had a lot to do with that, you know what I mean? So that is certainly is helpful. And on top of that he was a really quick learner. He really paid attention to the details of what we were trying to do over the course of that time to get him to where he is, and he was always intuitive and listening, like a sponge, listening, taking it all in.”
Jackson worked with Beecher to make his already excellent stride more fluid and efficient.
“We wanted to maximize that stride, generate more power, put more push on the ice,” Jackson said. “And then more toe flexion, more ankle flexion was a big thing. Because you notice when he skates now, especially when he crosses over, you know he looks like he floats, he’s always snapping those toes.”
Beecher was playing in the Syracuse Nationals program and was traveling a lot. Then he decided to settle down for a bit at Salisbury School in Connecticut.
A higher level
“He was pretty remarkable,” said Salisbury coach Andrew Will, who had Beecher for the 2016-17 season. “For someone his size, at his age, because when we first got dealing with Johnny, he had just finished his Grade 9 year. But his skating was so noticeable for a kid that size and just not his speed but the strength of his stride, his edgework, just how effortless he was as a kid that age with his skating.”
Will did what any coach would do, left Beecher’s skating alone. The coach was also impressed with Beecher’s shot and other skills, and he knew that Beecher just had to continue to add strength to his large frame.
More than anything Salisbury gave Beecher the type of competition a player with NHL aspirations needs to face.
“You know he came back, he hadn’t really been challenged because he’d always been against his own age group,” Will said. “But when he got to Salisbury and he was a sophomore playing against kids two, three sometimes four years older than him, so that was a really I think important step for him in his development, learning to not just rely on his natural ability, which was successful, but really learn how to play the game and use his teammates. He had a terrific year for us before going off to the national program.”
Beecher’s next stop was the USA Hockey National Team Development Program. Coach John Wroblewski was equally wowed by the player’s skating.
“Oh my gosh, it’s as good as you can get at this level. You know Chris Kreider back in the day, going all the way back to how good of a skater Patrick Marleau was when he was coming out of junior hockey. That’s how good of a skater this guy is,” Wroblewski said.
By now the tale has been told over and over that Beecher didn’t get as many points because he was on a deep USNTDP team, that had 17 kids selected in the 2019 draft, including eight in the first round. Beecher’s offensive game doesn’t worry Wroblewski.
“He’s so big and he’s so fast, he gets so many scoring chances. You’re not going to have to do a lot of projecting of what he’s going to be in the NHL. He’s going to be a bigger version of what he is right now,” Wroblewski said. “So you’re going to have a guy that probably converts at a similar rate at our level. If he does he’s going to be a really good three on a great team. And he can slide up your lineup for depth purposes when you’ve got guys out.
“But I see him as a major component to winning hockey and also a commodity I think that it’s tough to come by, those big guys that play with aggression and have some versatility to their game.”
Beecher will play at Michigan this fall and probably have a bigger role. His story’s not yet finished, but so far it seems to be veering toward a super ending.
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