Montreal Canadiens’ main training camp is now underway, and there have already been cuts from the 74-man roster. The Habs begin a series of eight pre-season games designed to cut the roster down to 23 players. In the meantime, it gives NHL hopefuls and prospects time to make themselves seen and show their progression.
Canadiens general manager (GM) Kent Hughes wants to build a team that plays fast with skill but is also smart. He has tried via trade and draft so far in his short time at the helm of the team to bring in players that fit that style. Despite being in a rebuild, there are few openings on the NHL roster that could be won by a rookie, even if one truly stands out. So far, one prospect, in particular, Owen Beck, has been able to stand out every time he has stepped on the ice so far at camp.
Montreal Rookie Camp
In rookie camp, not much was expected from the Canadiens’ 2022 second-round pick, who still remains unsigned to his entry-level contract (ELC). With a strong start in rookie camp, however, he has put himself in a favorable position, earning an invitation to the main camp. He demonstrated that he could perform offensively against prospects from his age group in a competitive setting. Beck’s goal in the rookie showcase is an excellent example.
Last season, Beck did score 21 goals and 51 points in 68 games for the Ontario Hockey League’s (OHL) Mississauga Steelheads. That shows that he does have some untapped offensive potential in his game. His play in the short tournament was more than worth an invitation to the main camp to test him against NHL competition.
Main Canadiens Camp
Since his arrival at the main camp, Beck has continued to turn heads. He has been highly visible on the ice making smart plays defensively, supporting his defense, not making errors in his positioning, and consistently being in the right spot.
Beck may not have had the opportunities he had to start with if not for the injuries to Sean Monahan and Nick Suzuki, but he seized the opportunity provided. Based on his play thus far in camp, it is fitting he wears No.62 as he has some of the same habits as the last player to wear the number for Montreal, Artturi Lehkonen.
As mentioned, Beck is showing a highly mature, professional style of defensive play. But also, he has shown himself highly capable of generating the transition game, as Lehkonen can. Using his speed and slick puck control skills, he consistently generates controlled zone exits and entries, which in turn lead to quality high danger scoring chances.
In a style reminiscent of Suzuki when he began his time with the Canadiens, Beck has an ability to read and anticipate plays over the entire 200 feet of the ice surface. His hockey IQ and vision also help him make small area plays at top speed. It’s evident that the coaching staff under head coach Martin St. Louis see the ability to center an offensive line as he will play in the first preseason game versus the New Jersey Devils on the top line with two prolific shooters in Cole Caufield and Mike Hoffman.
These two are a good pairing to test Beck’s offensive awareness, create open ice for his linemates with his speed and puck possession skills, and take advantage of his ability to generate controlled zone entries. Furthermore, his defensive play will be pushed to its limits, providing defensive cover for two highly offensive wingers, but also by playing against the Devils’ top center, Nico Hischier. According to his linemate from the Red versus White scrimmage held on 25 September, he is capable of filling in that role.
“He is a very intelligent player in his positioning. As a winger, all I have to do is break out and gain speed. He’s good for creating space and distributing the puck. I am impressed that a player that young is so calm in such a difficult environment”– Martin Richard (translated from French)
Having a mature game that seems highly transferrable to the professional style of play is impressive, considering Beck has played only one season in the OHL. Had he played two, as his 16-year-old season was canceled due to Covid-19, he would be further along in his development. Without that added season, his game is still raw in comparison to what it could become.
With the opening provided by the injuries to the Habs’ center depth, Beck has taken advantage and has showcased himself. He will likely be afforded another preseason game but is expected to return to Mississauga. He will play a significant role there this season, playing in all situations, as they are expected to compete for the OHL championship. His strong camp can also get the 2022-23 season off on the right foot for Beck, allowing him to not only become a key piece of his OHL club’s plans but could also factor into Team Canada’s plans for the 2023 World Junior Championships to be held in Halifax, NS.
Beck’s play this September has been impressive and has turned heads. He may not be able to earn an NHL job out of camp, due to his need to add strength, but mostly due to the logjam of veteran forwards signed to NHL contracts. What he has done, however, is enough to show he deserves an ELC, and he is a good candidate to leave this camp with one freshly signed.