On April 7, Boston Bruins general manager (GM) Don Sweeney and team President Cam Neely were on hand at the TD Garden as the NCAA Frozen Four played their two semifinal games. Sweeney and Neely had a big interest in the first game as Bruins’ prospect Johnny Beecher and his University of Michigan teammates battled and lost to the University of Denver, 3-2, in overtime.
The loss closed the season for Michigan and Beecher’s junior campaign. Six days after having his college season end, Beecher signed an Amateur Tryout Agreement (ATO) with the Bruins Wednesday and will finish out the regular season with the Providence Bruins in the American Hockey League (AHL). He was on the ice Wednesday morning for Providence during their practice at the Dunkin Donuts Center. In the big picture, it was a signing that the front office needed to get done as quickly as possible.
Who is Johnny Beecher?
Beecher was selected in the first round, 30th overall, in the 2019 Entry Draft. In three seasons with Michigan, Beecher had 19 goals and 20 assists, while batling multiple injuries. His sophomore season was cut short in February of 2021 with season-ending surgery after he suffered an upper-body injury (from ‘Johnny Beecher to miss remainder of season with injury’ The Michigan News, 2/28/21).
He missed the beginning of his junior season with an injury, but ended up with six goals and nine assists, primarily centering the bottom-six on a Michigan team that was loaded with first-round talent all over the roster. At 6-foot-3 and 210 pounds, he plays a physical brand of hockey, he was one of the top penalty killers for the Wolverines, and is strong at the faceoff dot. In the semifinal loss to Denver, he won 10 of his 14 draws, had two shots on the net, and really picked up his game in the second half of the season to help lead his team to the Big Ten Conference Tournament championship.
Following the Wolverines’ loss to Denver, Michigan coach Mel Pearson said not to be worried about Beecher’s stats and that he brings several different options to the table for the Bruins.
“He’s been a real key for us here as of late,” Pearson said. “…I wouldn’t be overly concerned with the stats. It’s what he brings to our team, and what he brings is speed, physicality, he’s got good size, great on faceoffs. He’s taken more of a defensive role on the penalty kill and done a great job there. But he’s really given us another line that’s dangerous, and added to our depth. His development’s been good.”
Prior to Michigan, he spent time with the U.S. National Development Program, with his best season coming in 2017-18 with nine goals and 16 assists in the regular season and two goals and five assists in eight postseason games.
What Beecher Brings to the Bruins
First and foremost, Beecher is a young center depth piece for a team that is about to go through a transition up the middle sooner than later. Patrice Bergeron is a free agent following the season and has not given an indication as to what his future plans are and he declined to discuss his contract status beyond this season before training camp back in September.
David Krejci returned to his home country of the Czech Republic to continue his career and while there is still a chance that he could return next season, a lot of that might very well have to do with what Bergeron decides. Erik Haula and Charlie Coyle are the second and third-line centers respectively, but are not the long-term solution. Jack Studnicka is hanging around Boston filling in this season when injuries occur and is considered the center-in-waiting for when Bergeron leaves. Signing Beecher gets him a jump start on next season and gives the Bruins some depth with so many unanswered questions facing them this upcoming offseason.
At Michigan, the Wolverines were loaded up the middle with Matty Beniers, a Seattle Kraken draftee, centering the first line and Thomas Bordeleau, a San Jose Sharks draftee, centering the second line. On most teams, Beecher would have been a top-six center, but settled in nicely on the third line in Ann Arbor, Michigan. How loaded was Michigan this season? His left wing Dylan Duke was drafted by the Tampa Bay Lightning and his right wing, Mackie Samsokevich is a draft selection of the Florida Panthers.
By signing his ATO, Beecher begins his journey with the Bruins after deciding to skip his senior season with the Wolverines. If he had returned to Michigan, he would have become a free agent following his senior season, something the Bruins did not want to happen. It’s not out of the realm of possibility that he could see some time in Boston this season, according to Sweeney.
“Johnny Beecher has made the decision to leave Michigan and the Bruins are excited that Johnny will immediately begin his professional career with the Providence Bruins,” said Sweeney. “We are appreciative to Mel Pearson and the Michigan coaching staff as they did a great job with his overall development. The Bruins and Johnny are leaving all options open with regards to his availability for the remainder of this season and playoffs. We will continue to communicate with his agent, Cam Stewart, while Johnny starts to play games and as we work towards finalizing his ELC.”
Despite battling injuries and finding himself in a third-line role at Michigan, the talent is there to be a middle-six center in the NHL. If he can develop his game to the NHL quicker than the Bruins hope, he could find himself in a position that Studnicka didn’t, getting his feet wet in a bottom-six role if Sweeney can swing some roster movement this upcoming offseason. Who knows, maybe he’s seen wearing the Spoked-B in one of the final nine regular-season games or playoff games.
Scott Roche covers the Boston Bruins for The Hockey Writers. A frequent user of the Oxford comma. Scott has been a sports writer for 25 years for different sites and daily newspapers. Writing started out as a hobby, but it has become a passion for Scott over the years.