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Center of Attention

Beecher selection part of Bruins' plan to continue building up the middle

by Eric Russo @NHLBruins /

VANCOUVER, British Columbia - For over a decade, the Bruins have set the standard for building around centermen in the National Hockey League.

With Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci leading the way, Boston has not had much to worry about when it comes to its play down the middle. And with Charlie Coyle and Sean Kuraly - two of the Bruins' best postseason performers this spring - also in tow, there may not be a better quartet of pivots anywhere in the NHL.

But one of the most crucial parts of Don Sweeney's job is looking to the future. And with Bergeron and Krejci approaching their mid-30s and Coyle under contract for just one more season, Boston's general manager knows he must find the right successors to fortify what's been a position of strength through each of the Bruins' three runs to the Stanley Cup Final this decade.

"We're cognizant," said Sweeney. "You guys know that we're looking at our center-ice position [from a] future standpoint. Where we sit right now we're comfortable, but going forward we have to be able to fill in behind some guys that are very prolific in Boston."

Sweeney has already begun to replenish the pipeline in recent years, selecting Trent Frederic (29th overall in 2016) and Jack Studnicka (53rd overall in 2017) - both of whom are likely to be crucial contributors in Providence this fall - with high draft picks.

And that trend continued on Friday night when Sweeney selected 18-year-old center John Beecher out of the United States National Team Development Program with the 30th overall pick at the 2019 NHL Entry Draft at Rogers Arena.

"There's growth left in his game," said Sweeney. "He's already a big, strong guy, and the skating ability and the ice he can cover…our guys did a lot of work in terms of the character of the player, and we believe there's growth still available. 

"He doesn't necessarily pop offensively because he hasn't been put in those situations, but he's going to be a real-hard guy to play against."

Video: Bruins draft F John Beecher No. 30

Sweeney, while likening Beecher to Coyle because of his size (6-foot-3, 209 pounds) and strength on the puck, raved about the Elmira, New York, native's skating ability.

"He really covers a lot of ice, and the game's not going to slow down," said Sweeney. "It's not, and he can get to the net. He can get inside… you can imagine him being a net-front guy if he gets that opportunity as well. He can push teams back. He's a little like Coyle, being able to drive through the middle of the ice and being able to drive teams back off the offensive blue line.

"He can see the D-men wide and take it to the net. Again, those things are not going to go away in his game. They're staples in his game. He knows it. He's identified it, and now he wants to continue to grow in the other parts of his game, which all young players have to do."

In 63 games for the USNTDP last season, Beecher - one of a record eight players from the U.S. program selected in the first round on Friday night - tallied 43 points (15 goals, 28 assists). The University of Michigan commit also tallied three goals and an assist in seven games for the United States at the 2019 U-18 World Junior Championship, helping Team USA to the bronze medal.

"Especially the second part of the year his offense was really starting to tick up," said Sweeney. "He's still kind of raw in some of those areas, the smaller details of the game, generating pure offense because he hasn't been put in a lot of those situations. I know Michigan sees him as a top-two-line guy, and we'll see the growth that comes from that."

Beecher said that he had been in contact with the Bruins for the last few weeks, including interviews at the Scouting Combine in Buffalo and here ahead of the Draft, and was confident that he would be selected during the opening round.

"I couldn't be more happy to go to this organization," said Beecher. "They're unbelievable. It's obviously a world-class organization…they've had a lot of success for a reason…they do things the right way, so it's an honor and privilege to be a part of it."

Video: Beecher speaks after being selected 30th by Bruins

Like Sweeney, Beecher pointed to his size and speed as his biggest strengths, characterizing himself as a "power forward," while also noting his success at the faceoff dot as another asset.

"I think my game really translates well to Boston," said Beecher. "I'm most comfortable in the middle…my success on the faceoff dot has been pretty crucial…I think that's where my game will translate the best."

Beecher, who said he models his game after former Bruins center Blake Wheeler, will spend this summer working out with his brother, Bryce, in his hometown of Elmira, before reporting to Ann Arbor this fall for his freshman campaign at the University of Michigan. It is there that he hopes to continue to shore up his all-around game.

"A big thing I've been working on is down-low play, whether it's in the offensive zone, just being able to spin off a guy and attack the net," said Beecher. "I think it will really take my game to the next level and help my production…then there's always time to keep filling out, so obviously this summer will be huge going into Michigan and being able to put on a little more weight and get ready to play the older guys."

And maybe someday in the not-so-distant future, he'll have the chance to learn a thing or two from those "older guys" in Boston.

"There's obviously so much talent there," Beecher said of Bergeron and the Bruins' center corps. "It's an exciting team to watch. There's so much to learn, and I'm really looking forward to it, being able to meet the guys and just kind of take it in and learn everything I can."

Video: Beecher speaks after being selected 30th Overall

Dealer Donny?

Sweeney acknowledged that it took the Bruins' contingent a while to get to the podium to announce the selection of Beecher because he was on the phone with other teams to discuss the possibility of moving back in the Draft.

"We were making some calls," said Sweeney. "Prior to going in we felt there would be a range of guys. We felt comfortable there, but when the time comes you have some debating with people and some calls that were made, whether or not we would move back possibly."

Ultimately, Sweeney elected to make the pick, but did not rule out the chance of deals being made during Day 2. Boston has four picks on Saturday - a third, a fifth, a sixth, and a seventh.

"There's been a lot of talk," said Sweeney. "Honestly, it was tempered a little bit during the Draft itself, not many moves made. But I think coming out tomorrow and the days [following], I think there will be some activity."

Video: Bruins GM Don Sweeney discusses the first round pick

Talk It Out

Sweeney also said he was going to connect "shortly" with J.P. Barry, the agent for winger Marcus Johansson, as the sides discuss a possible deal for the pending UFA. 

In regards to Boston's restricted free agents (Brandon Carlo, Danton Heinen, and Charlie McAvoy, Sweeney said, "I think the RFA market is one that's going to require patience on everybody's behalf. It just seems what's going around the league, we're not the only team that's going to have to probably see it this way."

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