The Chicago Blackhawks parting ways with so many key members from their Stanley Cup-winning team -- Dustin Byfuglien, Andrew Ladd, Ben Eager, Adam Burish and Antti Niemi, just to name a few -- has provided an opportunity for some of the franchise's top prospects to kick down the door and break into the NHL.
The 6-foot-3, 202-pound Kyle Beach
could be leading that charge.
Beach, who turns 21 in January, is as imposing as he is talented. He had 52 goals and 34 assists along with 186 penalty minutes in 68 games for the WHL's Spokane Chiefs last season. His physical nature and lack of discipline stood out for some scouts, but the Blackhawks felt he was worth the No. 11 pick in the 2008 Entry Draft.
All of those tools now have him on the verge of making his NHL debut when the Blackhawks start their title defense on the road against the Colorado Avalanche on Oct. 7.
"I do see there being a spot for me on the team this season," Beach said. "I think it's mine to take advantage of and mine to lose. If I'm sent down to (AHL) Rockford, it's definitely going to be disappointing, but at the same time, I'd rather go there first and work my way up than play the season and end up there next year. It's going to be a great challenge."
Beach raised eyebrows in July during the Blackhawks' summer development camp when he fought teammate Mathis Olimb twice during a scrimmage. Olimb, who is 30 pounds lighter and five inches shorter than Beach, will miss four months with a shoulder injury sustained in the fight.
Blackhawks GM Stan Bowman stood by Beach after the incident, saying the North Vancouver, B.C., native's toughness is what sets him apart from other prospects. And Beach knows he can't go changing his game now that he's so close to breaking into the NHL.
"I think that would have to be part of my game," Beach said of dropping the gloves. "I've talked to enough people throughout the past junior seasons and moving forward to know how to protect myself, and at the same time, if something needs to be done, I'm not going to be afraid to do it. If it means protecting one of my teammates, then it has to happen."
It's a bittersweet situation for Beach, whose chance comes at the expense of those players who were lost during the summer. Beach said he became friendly with many of them after joining the team as an extra player during the playoffs.
"Any time you see a teammate or friend get traded or go off to another team, it's tough," Beach said. "I started to get to know these guys pretty well throughout the playoffs as a black ace, at the training camps, at the Chicago Blackhawk conventions, different player appearances here and there, training in Chicago this summer. When they got the call, I know for them it was pretty devastating. It hurts to see them go, but at the same time, the NHL is a business.
"As much as it hurts to see them leave, that's what was necessary to open this possible spot for myself. It's very unfortunate, but it has to happen and hopefully that's the opportunity I need to make the NHL."
Not only is he replacing players with which he formed bonds, he's also going to be asked to fill the roles of players who brought Chicago its first Stanley Cup since 1961. But Beach is looking at this as an opportunity to do something special, rather than looking at it as an unenviable situation where he has to fill the shoes of a champion.
"I personally think it's exciting,” Beach said. "The city is going crazy right now. It's been going crazy all year. The playoffs were ridiculous. You can't go into a bar and not see a game on or see a jersey or something hanging up in the buildings. To be a part of this organization right now is an extremely exciting time. They always say the toughest thing to do is repeat, but at the same time, all the guys I've talked to and been around this summer know that it's not going to be easy.
"Going in as a young player, it's a time when you have to figure out your role and figure it out quick. I think I have a scoring touch, I'm an offensive player. I think I'm going to have to do a lot of that, but not overdo it. At the same time, you look at the guys we lost in the offseason: Burish, Eager, Ladd, all these guys were guys that played their role to a 'T,' but also brought toughness."
Beach has the ability to play a myriad of roles with the Blackhawks. He could find himself taking Byfuglien's place on the top line as an enforcer and puck retriever with Patrick Kane
and Jonathan Toews
. Or he could wind up doing his best Ladd or Eager impression on the fourth line.
"I'm pretty much prepared to play any role," Beach said. "There's obviously lots of great players they've gotten rid of, which is unfortunate, but they brought a lot of great players in as well. I think we're going to see this year how good their prospects are and how well they've brought them up in Rockford. It's going to be a great challenge, but I will be disappointed at the end of the day if I'm not on this roster."Follow Dave Lozo on Twitter: @DaveLozo
Author: Dave Lozo | NHL.com Staff Writer