A silver lining to the Nashville Predators’ second-half slide is the coaching staff is getting an opportunity to see what some of the organization’s top AHL prospects have to offer. If the lineup had a clean bill of health and the team was in playoff contention, the youngsters probably wouldn’t have gotten a chance to show what their all about at the NHL level.
Taylor Beck was eventually going to get his chance – the Ontario native has been knocking on the door since training camp in 2010, when he was 19 years old and almost made the NHL leap without a stint in Milwaukee.
So when the team’s struggles and injury woes persisted through mid-March, Beck got the call to Nashville. Last month he called his first NHL goal a “dream come true” and has continued to be an offensive threat on a near-nightly basis.
Predators head coach Barry Trotz has said that this final month is essentially an audition for youngsters to make an impression heading into next fall’s training camp. Through his first 15 NHL games, it’s safe to say Beck is taking advantage of the opportunity he’s been given.
“I think you have to like the way Beck has played,” Trotz said over the weekend. “He’s playing with a lot of confidence.”
Upon his arrival, Beck has been put in an advantageous situation playing alongside forwards who have established themselves in the NHL. Few rookies are able to say that, but the situation the Predators are in has allowed Beck to mostly skate on a line with David Legwand, along with Patric Hornqvist or Gabriel Bourque (before both got hurt).
That’s a big reason why Beck, whose shoot-first mentality has been a welcome addition to the lineup, hasn’t looked out of place en route to posting seven points in 15 games thus far.
“They’ve all just made it really easy on me, whether it’s helping me before the draw or on the bench, giving me tips here and there,” said Beck, who is one of five Predators to make their NHL debut this season.
Advanced statistics would suggest Beck has been one of the Predators’ more valuable forwards since his call-up from Milwaukee. So do real stats. Since Beck’s first game on Mar. 19, the 21-year-old winger is tied for the second-most points on the team behind Legwand.
“I think we’re able to give a lot of credit to [Patric Hornqvist] and [David Legwand] because they are two veteran guys that are playing hard; Beck is playing with them and they’re helping him along. His enthusiasm and the way he’s playing gives them confidence to make plays with them and do things. He also gives me a whole heck of a lot of confidence to say, ‘Just keep playing, you’re doing good things,’” Trotz said.
“That’s what you want to do with young players, is get them in a position where they can have a little bit of success and get confidence at this level.”
The biggest strength to Beck’s game has always been his offense, as he compiled back-to-back 90-point seasons with Guelph of the OHL in 2009-10 and 2010-11. He has said multiple times that he has worked more on the defensive side of his game in recent seasons, really ever since he just missed cracking the Predators’ opening night roster in 2010.
“When I got released after that training camp I was fortunate enough to have Scott Walker as my head coach [in Guelph of the OHL]; he played here in Nashville. He was really good to me, teaching me the defensive part of the game,” Beck said. “In Milwaukee the past year and a half, the most I’ve learned is how two-way responsibility is so important.”
The key for Beck is to carry over this success to next season and play his way onto the roster. Everything he’s done up to this point would suggest he’s more than capable of doing just that. But as the Predators have seen with some of their promising youngsters, potential doesn’t mean much unless it’s fulfilled.
Beck admitted that he has had next season in mind, in terms of trying to make his mark and stay in Nashville for the 2013-14 season.
“Right now I’m just trying to play one game at a time and do everything I can to help the team each game. Hopefully that rubs off on to next year at training camp,” he said.
“It’s been a good audition for him,” Trotz said. “Hopefully Milwaukee makes the playoffs and he carries that confidence to Milwaukee and through the playoff games. And then come to training camp and win a job.”