Canadiens’ Beck leaves Montreal with new contract, confidence soaring

Newcomers Alex DeBrincat and Claude Giroux tallied a goal and an assist each and Brady Tkachuk fired home the eventual game-winner as the Ottawa Senators edged the Montreal Canadiens 5-4.

MONTREAL — It was after signing his three-year, entry-level contract on Tuesday morning that Owen Beck said he’s approached every day at Montreal Canadiens camp as if it might be his last one. 

He then went through his pregame routine, skated 16 impressive shifts in a 5-4 loss to the Ottawa Senators that rendered the Canadiens 0-6 in the preseason, held court in the Montreal dressing room with reporters and finally met with coach Martin St. Louis to be informed he was being released from camp and sent back to the OHL’s Mississauga Steelheads. 

Mission accomplished. 

Beck, who was chosen 33rd overall in the 2022 Draft, left it all on the ice. 

Now he’s leaving Montreal having made as strong of an impression as he possibly could have — and not just on the Canadiens.

“He’s so, so smart out there,” a pro scout who was watching Beck play live for the first time on Tuesday at the Bell Centre said to us.

“He’s dynamic, for sure,” said Canadiens star Cole Caufield. “He makes plays in tight areas, and he’s got a lot of skill and he works hard. A little bit of grit in his game, too, so you love to see that.”

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We saw it — Beck not backing down from bigger, badder Brady Tkachuk in a post-whistle scrum in the third period. 

We saw something else from Beck when we caught up with him away from the cameras and other reporters just moments before he was cut from camp.

“Did you pay attention to the things people said about you leading up the draft? About whether or not you had enough offensive upside,” we asked.

“Of course,” he said, shrugging his shoulders as if to bring attention to the big chip on one of them. “I don’t give a shit now. I thought I should be a first-round pick in the OHL Draft, too. 

“But like I mentioned to you earlier in camp, people have underestimated my shot a bit and that’s up to me to use it a bit more.”

Beck will do exactly that — and much more — with the Steelheads this season, provided he stays healthy. 

The confidence the 18-year-old is taking with him to Mississauga will propel him to new heights. 

It grew with every passing day he spent in Montreal, but started to swell in Buffalo, where he was a standout among Canadiens rookies at the rookie showcase. 

We could feel it oozing out of him as he described his experience at main camp a little under a week ago, even if he was trying to conceal it with a little humility.

“The best compliment anyone’s paid me is that I don’t look out of place,” Beck said then. 

A more accurate assessment would’ve been to say he looks right at home.

If not for the Canadiens already having 16 forwards on NHL contracts, the notion Beck belongs with the team right now wouldn’t be remotely farfetched. 

The fact that Beck clearly belongs at his natural position at centre and nowhere else — he was very effective in the faceoff circle before going 0-4 against the Senators on Tuesday — actually worked against him. With Nick Suzuki, Christian Dvorak, Kirby Dach, Jake Evans and Sean Monahan already at the position, St. Louis acknowledged he’ll have to move at least one established centre to the wing throughout the season.

But the coach was impressed by Beck there.

“He makes a lot of confident actions on the ice for a player,” St. Louis said. “He plays with some swag. He’s got some swagger to his game. Plays with some grit, too. He’s a nice package.”

You could see the swagger on the zone entries — in the way Beck identified the little holes in coverage and snuck his way through them to create opportunities for his linemates — and certainly on the power play, where he made something out of nothing on a one-on-two rush and split the defence to push a shot on net in the third period of Tuesday’s game. 

The exciting thing about that specific play was how Beck identified he had the optimal conditions to make it.

“That kind of stems from my speed,” Beck said. “If I can catch the D playing out to the wing a little bit, playing the kickout, then maybe I can get on my horse, get down the middle and catch them sleeping a little bit…”

He made the read before he got the puck.

“Obviously, your head’s on a swivel all the way up the ice,” Beck explained. “And when (Rem) Pitlick hit me with the pass back there, I kind of felt like I had a little bit of room and I tried to squeeze through. Didn’t get the best shot off there, but got something towards the net.”

Plays like that throughout camp earned him his first professional contract, and now Beck is poised to go make them in a league where he’ll have much more time and space afforded to him than he had at this level. 

Beck said Tuesday morning that he’s become a better player within the limited time he’s been exposed to life in the NHL, that he’s learned a lot from St. Louis and his staff and after showing it in Tuesday’s game, said there was one tactical lesson he can apply to help produce at a much higher clip than the one that saw him manufacture just 21 goals and 51 points in 68 games last season.

“I think one of the biggest things is trying to get three guys in high ice really quickly,” Beck said. “It’s something that isn’t completely foreign to me, but it’s a little bit new coming here. Marty stressed it a lot and that’s something that I’d like to bring back to Mississauga because a lot of defencemen are very hesitant to go into ice high ice in their own zone. So, that’s something that if you have a defenceman on you, you can pull him out up top and maybe have some space.”

He leaves Montreal having carved out room for himself near the top of the Canadiens’ prospect rankings, and that’s much more than most expected from him when he first arrived.

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