In Adam Beckman, the Spokane Chiefs have an elite Western Hockey League scorer, a player for whom the puck just seems to find its way past goalies.
“Obviously, I’m really lucky,” said linemate Jack Finley, whose 25 assists are third most on the team, “because I just pass him the puck and it goes in the back of the net.”
Beckman scored a goal in 10 consecutive games, setting a franchise record, before being held without a goal Tuesday in a 5-3 loss at Portland (27-6-1-3), the U.S. Division leader.
The Chiefs (20-12-4-1) play at home Friday against Vancouver (17-16-2-2).
But Beckman is working to ensure that if and when he gets to the National Hockey League – the Minnesota Wild selected him in the third round of last June’s draft – he can contribute with more than just a scoring touch.
That’s because, in the experience of head coach Manny Viveiros, few great WHL scorers go on to be great NHL scorers, simply because it’s so much harder to be one in the sport’s top league.
“You’re not gonna score 50 goals in the NHL. It doesn’t automatically translate,” Viveiros said. “But if you can find another role, a good checker, a good penalty killer … it really improves (a player’s) chances of playing in the National Hockey League.”
Beckman said that’s what he’s doing: embracing the challenge of becoming a top-level 200-foot forward who can both score and defend.
To be sure, he’s been scoring aplenty: In his last 11 games, Beckman has 16 goals and seven assists.
Through 38 games, Beckman ranks second in the WHL with 29 goals. That total is more than twice as many as any of his teammates (Eli Zummack and Bear Hughes each have 13) and is three shy of his team-leading total a year ago.
He is on pace to score 53, which would help him crack the top 10 as far as the Chiefs’ single-season totals go. Valerie Bure’s 68 goals in 1992-93 stand as the record, followed by Ray Whitney’s 67 in 1990-91.
But Beckman also leads the team in plus-minus, a compliment both to his goal-scoring and his line’s ability to defend its net. His plus-26 ranks fourth best in the WHL.
“I know Adam’s line, they’re always playing against other team’s top line and also the top pairing of defensemen,” Viveiros said of the Beckman-Finley-Cordel Larson line. “We don’t call those easy minutes, so they’re doing something right.”
Last year, when Beckman didn’t play against the other teams’ top lines as often, he finished with 62 points and a plus-19 in 68 games.
He credited his improved play this year to coaching as well as simply getting more opportunities to play better competition.
“I think experience is one of those things where you can learn so much when you’re put in situations that you kinda see what happens and how you have to react,” Beckman said.
So far, he has responded well, and the WHL noticed. He was named the league’s player of the month for December, when he posted 15 goals and five assists in 11 games.
The last Chiefs player to earn the monthly award was Mitch Holmberg in September/October 2013. Holmberg had 62 goals that season, fifth most in franchise history. He is Spokane’s most recent 50-goal scorer.
Bure, Whitney and Pat Falloon – whose 64 goals in 1990-91 and 60 the year before rank fourth and sixth, respectively, in team history – are among the Chiefs’ most prolific NHL goal scorers.
Whitney has the most (385 in 1,330 games), followed by Travis Green, who scored 51 goals in 1988-89 with the Chiefs and went on to score 193 goals in 970 NHL games.
Among Chiefs alumni, Michael Grabner’s 175 NHL goals are next, followed by Bure (174) and Tyler Johnson (148). Grabner (Arizona Coyotes) and Johnson (Tampa Bay Lightning) are still active.
Bryan McCabe, a defenseman who played 1,135 NHL games, is next with 145 goals, followed by Falloon and his 143.
But, as Viveiros said, prolific goal-scoring in the WHL doesn’t always continue in the NHL. Holmberg, for example, never played in the NHL. Neither did Terry Perkins (66 goals in 1985-86) nor Ryan Duthie (57 in 1993-94).
Beckman said he hasn’t yet let himself think much about the NHL. But the 18-year-old still has room – and time – to prepare himself to play there someday.
“He’s really stepped up as a leader this year,” Finley said. “He’s buying into the system this year and doing whatever it takes for the team to win.”