Kyle Beach knows what people are saying. Just about every prospect hears the chatter and the criticism, especially first-round draft picks working to reach the National Hockey League.
Beach was the Chicago Blackhawks’ first-round selection (11th overall) in the 2008 NHL Entry Draft. Scouting reports usually don’t measure patience, persistence or perseverance, all of which Beach has had to learn during his first two seasons in the Blackhawks organization.
The 6-foot-3 winger describes his first two seasons in the pro ranks as a process, but also realizes careers aren’t defined by your first couple of years.
Now 22, Beach is technically entering his third full season in the professional game, but in reality 2012-13 will be his second. Eight games into his 2011-12 campaign, Beach suffered a shoulder injury that sidelined him for 57 games, delaying his on-ice development.
Despite the early-season injury, Beach was able to work through an intense rehabilitation and salvage the final 11 games of the season. If the injury had occurred a week or two later, Beach probably would have been shut down for the remainder of the year and headed into the offseason months waiting to get back into game action.
“Fortunately, I was able to make it back for the final 11 games last season,” said Beach. “It really allowed me to take hits and give me the feeling that it’s healed. I don’t have to worry about going into next season worrying about taking that first hit.”
Before his injury, Beach was starting to find his stride in the American Hockey League. His comfort level on and off the ice last season far exceeded that of his rookie year.
Through eight games, Beach had three goals and three assists to go along with 18 penalty minutes. His most effective game came on Oct. 9 in Peoria, where the winger drew a pair of penalties by getting under the skin of the Rivermen and then scored the game-winning goal with 8:32 left in regulation.
That’s the Kyle Beach that was ranked as a top-tier NHL prospect while honing his skills in the Western Hockey League heading into the 2008 NHL Entry Draft: the agitator that would knock the opposition off their game with his mouth and then finish them with the game-deciding goal. During his final season in the WHL with the Spokane Chiefs, Beach led the circuit with 52 markers.
“He went from being the dominant scorer in junior hockey, then he comes to the pro level and it’s not as easy right off the bat,” said Blackhawks Vice President/General Manager Stan Bowman. “He kind of struggled during that first season and then by the end of the year, he got things in order and started scoring some goals. He ended up with a pretty good rookie year when it was all said and done, but it was more of a challenge for him then the year before when he was so dominant in juniors.
“The biggest transition for any hockey player is when he goes from juniors or college to the American Hockey League. American League to the NHL is certainly a step, but in some ways they’re close leagues. But junior hockey is a lot different. You’re playing against kids that are 16 to 20-years-old. And then you get to the American League and you’re playing against guys who are bigger and stronger.”
That combination of agitator and contributor is not easy to find in professional hockey, and it’s why Beach’s skill set is coveted by the Blackhawks organization. Heading into the new campaign, Bowman expects an even greater evolution to the winger’s game.
“You don’t want to get distracted with antics and whatnot, and he seems to understand that,” said Bowman. “But you have to play with some kind of edge as well. That’s what separates him from some other guys. Not everybody has the ability or is willing to play on the edge. You don’t want to take that away from him because it’s something that sets him apart, and we’re trying to find guys who can walk that line between being a disruptive player to the opponent and also a productive player for you.”
As with every prospect aspiring to be full-time NHL players, Beach is looking ahead to 2012-13 and putting his first two seasons behind him. The most frustrating part for Beach was the fact that he was unable to reach some of his goals he set for himself last season because of the injury, including reaching the NHL.
He did enjoy watching some of his close friends on the team, Andrew Shaw and Dylan Olsen, make their NHL debuts with Chicago and contribute to the big club last year. Seeing the success of his teammates, however, has made Beach hungrier to reach the top level.
“This year is huge for me; it’s the last year of my entry level deal, so technically it’s a contract year,” said Beach. “I still feel that I have a lot to prove, not only to the fans and the organizations, but myself as well. I want to prove to myself that I can play and contribute.
“Working with [Blackhawks Strength and Conditioning Coach] Paul Goodman this summer has been great for me. We’ve been doing a lot of work to improve my game. The organization has addressed several things I need to do to get better—getting stronger, faster, skating. Even if I start in Rockford, I want to work and work and work to get to that level and prove to the Blackhawks that I deserve another contract.“
Instead of returning home to British Columbia this summer, Beach elected to stay in Chicago to train with Goodman and utilize the resources that the Blackhawks organization provides the players. The decision was made easier when IceHogs teammates and fellow Blackhawks prospects Joe Lavin and Ben Smith also decided to stay in the Windy City this summer. Smith, like Beach, is also coming off an injury, and the two have been able to push each other during workouts.
This is the type of dedication that Beach has shown throughout his young professional career.
“As guys mature, they start to realize that they need to do things differently than when they were a kid. He’s still a young guy, but he’s certainly grown up a little bit and I think that’s going to help him in the long run,” said Bowman.
During his recuperation from the shoulder injury, Beach’s short-term goal is to go into Blackhawks training camp in September in the best shape possible and vie for a spot on the team’s regular-season roster.
“There are a lot of people on your side trying to help you reach your goals, but there are a lot of people who want to see you fail,” said Beach. “There are a lot of people that are writing me off as a high draft pick and I want to prove them wrong. But I also want to prove to myself that I can do it.
“I’ve been working out with Paul this summer along with Ben Smith and Joe Lavin. Those guys really motivate me. They make me want to go to the gym and work out. It’s been challenging, but I’ve had fun working with those guys.”
Entering year three of his development, Beach would like to make an impact in Chicago as soon as possible, but he and the organization also know he’s in a spot where prospects don’t have to be rushed to the next level.
Bowman mentioned that with the depth in Chicago and in Rockford, this allows prospects time to perfect their skill level while learning their craft and role at the AHL level, so when they get the NHL they are more likely to succeed.
Beach’s goal is to be in the NHL soon, but he also realizes that there’s plenty of room left in his development process, which will more than likely include more time in Rockford.
Being in the right frame of mind come September could benefit Beach in the long run.
“Prospects get their mind set on just one thing and they aren’t able to regroup if they don’t make the team right out of camp,” said Bowman. “You still want to have high expectations, but you can’t get too disgruntled if you don’t make the team right away. There are plenty of guys each season who don’t start the year with us, but end the year with us.
“It’s a process. It’s hard to short-circuit anything. I think it might be a blessing in disguise for him to have missed all that time, because he has developed some patience, he understands where he’s at, and he has a good grasp on his career path.”
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