First-round picks York and Beecher ready for challenge of college hockey
Last October, Cam York and Johnny Beecher took the ice at Yost Ice Arena for the first time.
The U.S. National Team Development Program’s U18 squad faced the Wolverines in an exhibition, and both were in the starting lineup for the USNTDP. York tallied an assist as his team defeated Michigan, 6-3.
Just under a year later, York and Beecher are back at Yost — this time, as freshmen for the Wolverines.
The duo took different paths to Michigan, but both are expected to hit the ground running and contribute right away. In this year’s NHL Entry Draft, York was drafted No. 14 overall by the Philadelphia Flyers and Beecher went No. 30 overall to the Boston Bruins.
“(They’re) obviously bright spots,” said associate head coach Bill Muckalt. “We’re excited about them. I think they’re both going to add a lot to our team.”
When York came to Yost in October, he didn’t know that he’d be returning to Ann Arbor the following year. At the time, he was committed to Boston College, but when then-associate head coach Greg Brown left the Eagles to be an assistant coach in the NHL, York began to reconsider his decision.
For Michigan’s coaching staff, York’s decommitment was an opportunity to go after a highly-ranked prospect and a player who could be in the pipeline behind former defenseman Quinn Hughes.
“We knew he’s obviously a high-end offensive player and someone that (former assistant coach Brian Wiseman) and I and (coach Mel Pearson) really were interested in,” Muckalt said. “We discussed and we thought, ‘You know, he’s probably the best player on the board at that position.’ We were excited to try to recruit him.”
And when York’s team came to play the Wolverines, the crowd at Yost sealed the decision.
“I think that was kind of the cherry on top,” York told The Daily last December. “That’s what kind of sold me, for sure. Just the atmosphere of that place and just the way that Michigan fans support their team. It’s a special place.”
Muckalt and Pearson knew Hughes was likely going to depart for the Vancouver Canucks — the team that drafted him No. 7 overall in 2018 — after his sophomore season, and York stood out as an offensive-minded defenseman who could fill that spot on the left side for the Wolverines. In 63 games with the USNTDP in the 2018-19 season, York tallied 14 goals and added 51 assists for a total of 65 points — a single-season program record for a blueliner.
“No question,” Muckalt said when asked if York could replace Hughes. “I think with his vision and his offensive instincts, I think it’ll be a — I don’t want to put any pressure on him, but I think it’ll be a smooth transition.”
While York just decided nine months ago to commit to the Wolverines, Beecher has known for years that Michigan was his future home.
The Wolverines first reached out to Beecher during his sophomore year at the Salisbury School in Salisbury, Conn. In that initial contact, though, Beecher learned that then-coach Red Berenson would likely be retiring at the end of the season, so he decided to wait and see who the new coach was before he went further in the process. When Pearson was hired, he and Wiseman paid a visit to Beecher and he was sold.
Through two successful years at the USNTDP, Beecher’s commitment never wavered. Now that he’s on campus, the coaching staff is hopeful that he’ll continue to grow as a player and realize his potential.
“(Beecher has high-level) skating ability and he can shoot the puck,” Muckalt said. “I think he’s going to be a tremendous asset in a lot of areas, and I think he’s just scratching the surface of the player that he can become.”
For the talented duo, the biggest challenge in adjusting to college hockey will be joining a team that had a difficult season last year. Michigan won just 13 of its 36 games last season, while the USNTDP squad won 47 of 63.
But Beecher is clearly ready for the challenge of turning around a struggling team.
“I think the energy is really high in the locker room right now,” Beecher said. “And I think everybody’s excited. I mean, we know the talent that we have, and I think we’re all pretty eager to get started. I think it’s going to be a great season. Can’t wait for the first game to come.”