It’s no secret that the Michigan men’s hockey team is beginning fall practices with lots of uncertainty — its forward group at the forefront.
Gone are four of the Wolverines’ top five forward scorers from last season, and with them, 40 goals and 87 points. Now, only sophomore Johnny Beecher remains.
Beecher’s freshman season got off to a bit of a slow start, as he netted just one goal in Michigan’s first nine games, but his eight goals in the final 22 games of the season — including one in each of the Wolverines’ two postseason games — provided optimism that he can be a reliable source of scoring for a young team.
What makes Beecher so effective is his rare combination of size and speed. Standing at 6-foot-3 and weighing in at 209 pounds, he is one of the biggest forwards on Michigan’s roster — and he uses that to his advantage.
Off this faceoff, Beecher stations himself in front of the net to screen the goalie and potentially deflect a shot in. When he sees defenseman Luke Martin with an open shot, Beecher plants his feet and out-muscles the Michigan State defenseman just enough to give himself a lane for a deflection.
Beecher doesn’t have much space — he can’t even get his stick on the ice — but with the little space he has he is able to angle his skate to deflect the puck toward the net. That’s what’s so impressive about this goal.
Space in front of the net is always hard to come by, and Beecher’s ability to work in tight spaces and create room makes him a force near the crease.
But what sets Beecher apart from other big forwards is his speed. Rarely do you see a forward of his size skate as well as he does, and he uses that speed as a weapon to get through the neutral zone with relative ease and create opportunities like this one.
Once Beecher gets his legs moving in the defensive zone, he’s off, and he flies through the neutral zone untouched. When the defenseman attempts to step up and make a play, Beecher has so much speed that with a simple cut to the middle, he loses him.
Though he doesn’t put a shot on net at first, he is able to keep his speed and bring the puck to the slot where he finds space and rips it past the goalie.
Beecher’s strength and size already make it difficult enough for defensemen to take the puck from him, and when he can find open ice to gain some speed, he has the ability to score highlight-reel goals like on this play.
His speed can be deceptive, too, like on this rush.
One second it seems as though he’s just skating with forward Jacob Hayhurst through the neutral zone, and then two strides later he’s behind the defense without them realizing it. While Beecher couldn’t convert on this chance, his ability to deceive defensemen and pick up speed quickly should provide him with many opportunities.
Players like Beecher don’t come around often, and once he got acclimated to the college game, he was difficult to defend. He has the tools to be a dominant goal-scorer, and could be a key asset for a team with lots of roster turnover.