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Spokane Chiefs forward Adam Beckman named WHL player of the year

UPDATED: Thu., May 21, 2020

By Dan Thompson For The Spokesman-Review

A little more than four years ago, Adam Beckman was a 5-foot, 139-pound prospect the Spokane Chiefs selected in the fifth round of the bantam draft.

On Thursday, Beckman was named the Western Hockey League’s Player of the Year.

“You’re at such a young age, so you never really know what’s gonna happen,” Beckman said of the WHL bantam draft. “A lot of high picks pan out, and a lot of late picks do, too.”

Beckman’s award came a day after teammate Ty Smith, a former first-overall pick in the bantam draft, was named the WHL’s Defenseman of the Year for the second straight season.

Both will be up for the top Canadian Hockey League honors – along with selections from the Ontario Hockey League and the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League – at a future date. That date has yet to be announced.

Smith won the CHL Defenseman of the Year award last season and is looking to be the first player to win it twice.

The last seven CHL Player of the Year awards went to players from the OHL and QMJHL; the last WHL player to win it was Tri-City’s Brendan Shinnimin in 2012.

“As everyone sees, they bring so much day in and day out, practices, games,” said Eli Zummack, their Chiefs teammate. “They just have that presence on the ice. People just know they’re elite.”

Beckman is the first Chiefs player to win the Four Broncos Memorial Trophy, named in honor of the four Swift Current players who were killed in a team bus crash in 1986, since Ray Whitney won the award following the 1990-91 season. That was the year of Spokane’s first Memorial Cup victory.

Last season as an 18-year-old, Beckman led the WHL with 48 goals and 107 points in 63 games. The league canceled the end of its regular season and the postseason entirely in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Beckman is the latest in a string of WHL MVPs who entered the league as unheralded players. Of the previous 10 to win player of the year, more of them went undrafted as bantams (three) than were first-round selections (two).

Goalie Darcy Kuemper, WHL Player of the Year in 2010-11, was the 45th overall selection by the Chiefs in the 2005 WHL bantam draft, but he played just one game with Spokane before the Chiefs traded him to the Red Deer Rebels, where he finished his junior career.

The defenseman Smith, on the other hand, was the first overall selection in 2015 and has played 240 WHL games in four seasons with the Chiefs. Now a 20-year-old, Smith’s career in Spokane is most likely done. He had 59 points in 46 games this season and finished plus-49, second best in the league to teammate Noah King (plus-60).

Smith was taken 17th overall in the 2018 NHL draft by the New Jersey Devils. Beckman was taken in the third round, 75th overall, in 2019 by the Minnesota Wild.

“I know for both of them, this is a little piece to the big puzzle and they’re both super happy and excited, which is normal,” Zummack said. “At the same time, they’re just getting started.”

Attention on Beckman grew considerably in the past 12 months, as he charged toward and then past 100 points on the season.

“I just try to ignore it almost,” Beckman said of the attention, “and continue to work on getting better as a player every day. Hopefully, playing in the NHL comes with that.”

While Smith and Beckman have top awards from the WHL, Smith still has something his fellow resident of Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, does not: a gold medal, which Smith won in January with Team Canada at the IIHF World Junior Championship.

“Yeah, that’d be pretty cool,” Beckman said of someday representing Team Canada at Worlds. “That’s been a dream since I was a kid.”

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