While the sight of former first round pick Johnny Beecher in a maroon no-contact sweater made him stand out from everybody else at the first day of Boston Bruins development camp, the 6-foot-3, 209-pound center is coming along from shoulder surgery. The 20-year-old had his sophomore college season end prematurely due to a nagging labrum injury after he was also held off Team USA at the World Juniors last December for what was thought to be a false positive COVID-19 test result right before the tournament.
It all amounted to a hockey season that Beecher would like to forget as he suits up at this week’s development camp and looks forward to a big junior season with the Wolverines. Beecher still managed four goals and eight points along with a plus-4 in 16 games for Michigan before deciding to pull the plug, but it was a struggle trying to gut it out while figuring out the best plan moving forward.
“My arm got stuck in one of the guys and he kind of pulled one way, I pulled the other and my shoulder just sublexed. I played throughout the year with it and dealt with it as it came. It got to the point where we had to get it done before there was further damage so I could be back earlier,” said Beecher after the first day of Boston Bruins development camp. “Our biggest thought with that was if we did [the surgery] when we did, I’d be back to 100 percent by mid-August. That’s basically the time we get back to school. I wanted to hit the ground running as soon as we got on campus. I wanted to have a couple months there to get re-acclimated to the contact and just get ready for the season.”
The Elmira, New York native had actually only skated a handful of times while recovering from surgery, so he wasn’t close to peak form, whatever that actually would be anyway at a summer development camp. Even at his best, there’s still plenty in his game to work on and refine beyond the fast skating, physical play and big body that make him a top tier prospect.
The traditional strengths to Beecher’s game were on full display on Monday to Chris Kelly, Adam McQuaid, Bruins Director of Player Development Jamie Langenbrunner and Boston Bruins skills coach Kim Brandvold as they put the Baby B’s through drills.
“Skating well like usual,” said Langenbrunner, who said it’s still to be determined whether Beecher will be a second, third or fourth line center at the NHL level based on how he develops. “Had definitely a bit of a broken-up season…a tough one – I’m sure he said that as well. I think his team next year is going to have a bit of a target on its back and it will be a great opportunity for him to play under that scrutiny, under that pressure, for a team that should contend for a national title. He’ll be a big part of that.
“His skating is obviously high-end. We were actually laughing about it out there today, [skating and skills coach Kim Brandvold] and I. It almost looks like he’s not skating at times, but when you’re standing there, he’s actually going really, really fast because it’s so effortless. His skating and his size are always going to be there. He’s learning how to [get into] those pro habits and we’re going to continue to work with him. It’s going take a little bit of time. Good on Johnny and how he’s bought in to that.”
🎥 B’s Director of Player Development Jamie Langenbrunner meets with the media after Day 1 of #BruinsDevCamp to talk about Johnny Beecher, Brady Lyle, Mason Lohrei, and more: pic.twitter.com/Ci1DvAfKrX
— Boston Bruins (@NHLBruins) August 2, 2021
That’s something Beecher is keenly aware of as he begins ramping things up for what could end up being his final season of college hockey.
“The biggest thing still is the off-ice part of the game, building my hockey IQ, knowing when to put pucks where and being better away from the puck, better finishing – just little things like that, that will make a big difference down the road,” said Beecher. “I feel like I’m gaining more and more confidence every year. Obviously with the surgery it limited me a little bit this past season in what I could do and what I was comfortable with on the ice. But this upcoming season, I’m sure when we get back in the swing of things and I get comfortable out there again it will be a lot of fun.”
Nobody likes to struggle with injuries or tough years, obviously, but there’s also an element of a Bruins prospect like Beecher now getting a chance to show the player development staff how he can work through the adversity. All eyes will be on how the 2019 first round pick bounces back from a tough year and a difficult injury, and that response could speak volumes about Beecher’s future with the Black and Gold at the NHL level.