Chicago Blackhawks: Will Kyle Beach Ever Make It to the NHL?

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Chicago Blackhawks: Will Kyle Beach Ever Make It to the NHL?
Claus Andersen/Getty Images

Of all the prospects in the NHL, very few have caused more grief to their organization and raised more questions from fans than Kyle Beach.

Kyle Beach was selected 11th overall in the 2008 NHL Entry Draft by the Chicago Blackhawks, despite being projected to be drafted in the top five.

This made the acquisition of Beach a steal for the Blackhawks. But after Beach's first full season of professional hockey, it doesn't look much like a steal any longer, as we finally starting to understand what made teams so reluctant to draft him.  

But first, let's do a review of Beach's career.

In 2006-07, Beach recorded 29 goals, 32 assists, 196 penalty minutes and was a plus-27 in 65 games with the Everett Silvertips of the WHL.

In 2007-08, he had 27 goals, 33 assists, 222 penalty minutes and was a minus-four in 60 games.

In 2008-09—his draft year—he split the season between the Everett Silvertips  and the Lethbridge Hurricanes, recording 24 goals, 39 assists, 165 penalty minutes and a plus-four in 54 games.

He also played two games with the Rockford IceHogs that season. He didn't record a point and had 15 penalty minutes.

In 2009-2010, he had a dominant season with the Spokane Chiefs of the WHL, getting 52 goals, 34 assists and 186 penalty minutes in 68 games.

Beach fights Mathis Olimb in training

That same year he played four games with the Rockford IceHogs, but failed to record a point and had zero penalty minutes.

After a very impressive junior career that concluded with a 52-goal season, expectations for Beach were very high going into the 2010-11 season. Most people thought he was a lock to make the team out of training camp and perhaps even see top line minutes.

But after a very unimpressive performance in training camp and an incident involving fellow prospect Mathis Olimb which led to a shoulder injury, Beach failed to make the Blackhawks roster and instead was sent down to play with their AHL affiliate, the Rockford IceHogs.

In his first full professional season with the IceHogs, Beach was a huge disappointment, scoring only 16 goals and 20 assists in 71 games.

Even worse than his lack of offensive production was his abysmal defensive play. Beach finished the season with a minus-24 rating, worst on the IceHogs.

A lot of words have been used to describe Beach in his first season in the AHL. The terms "lazy," "stupid," "bad penalties" and "uncommitted" seem to keep popping up.

Beach is reported to have been unfocused, uninterested and prone to taking terrible penalties at the worst of times.

Beach was considered the Blackhawks' top prospect going into last season, but his struggles in Rockford caused him to get passed over as a call-up. Other prospects like Jeremy Morin, Rob Klinkhammer and Ben Smith were some of the IceHogs to receive a call-up before Beach.

More importantly, Beach wasn't called up to the Blackhawks for the 2011 Stanley Cup Playoffs, which says a lot about what the organization's opinion of Beach is at this point in time.

This has led people to seriously question Beach's potential to reach the NHL level and consequently, caused some speculation about what the Blackhawks will do with him.

There are basically two camps on the Kyle Beach front: those who argue that he will never become an NHL player and should be traded now while he still has some value, and those who say he needs another year or two at the professional level to develop his game mentally.

I am firmly entrenched in the second camp. And here's why.

First, let's not forget what Beach's role was meant to be when he was drafted into the organization. He was a power forward who was expected to hit, intimidate, agitate, fight and enforce. Everything else, including his ability to score, was secondary.

Mark Bernard, General Manager of the Rockford IceHogs, stated in his review of Beach's season that Beach is very good at being an agitator and drawing retaliation penalties.

Beach also had 11 fights last season, according to www.hockeyfights.com, so he's more than willing to drop the gloves and protect his teammates.

A huge roster weakness for the Blackhawks, particularly exposed by the Vancouver series, was a lack of grit, toughness, physicality and agitation, things that played such a huge part in their Stanley Cup victory last year. After the Vancouver series, the team developed the mantra "We need to be tougher to play against."

Claus Andersen/Getty Images
Beach certainly makes them tougher to play against. He's exactly the kind of player the Blackhawks need on their roster: A dominating power forward with size and grit who can agitate opposing players while still generating offense.

Second, this was Beach's first professional year. It's a little harsh and irrational to claim that a player will never be NHL material after only one year on a very young, immature and underachieving team.

It just doesn't seem prudent to give up on a former first round pick after a single disappointing season. That doesn't say good things about the organization's patience with their prospects and commitment to their development.

This was what Mark Bernard had to say about Beach's first season:

"You can’t expect him just to come into pro hockey and have even a 27-28 goal year. I think Kyle made strides in a lot of areas; he worked extremely hard on his skating all season. I think it was a big year for him in maturing at the pro level. The one thing that Kyle brings that none of our other players can bring is that he can get under the other team’s skin, and he’s very good at it. He can draw a lot of penalties doing it. He has a fantastic shot, and if he can get into the open area, he can shoot the puck like nobody else.

We have to get him to be more consistent. But you know, he’s a 20-year-old kid playing his first year in pro hockey. That’s going to come. It doesn’t just happen overnight. He learned a lot. It was still a good year; he scored 16 goals. If he can break into the 20-goal range next year … It took Jack Skille three years before he got there, so there’s a lot of good things to come for Kyle, and I think he learned a lot about himself and a lot about the pro game this year that he can take away this summer and improve on."

There's no question that Beach is an extremely talented player, with so many different skills and so much potential, which is why I hate the idea of giving up on him. If he's willing to smarten up and put work into his game, I don't see any reason he couldn't be a true NHL forward someday.

But that's the problem with Kyle Beach: We don't know if this will ever happen. Some claim that it never will, which is why he should be traded now while he still has some value and be someone else's problem to worry about.

Unless Beach is the key piece in a trade that will bring the Blackhawks a much needed center or defenseman, then he should remain in the Blackhawks' system to further develop. Its illogical to trade a player of Beach's potential simply for the sake of trading him, citing his bad season as the reason. Prospects require patience; Beach is no different.

In my opinion, we simply haven't seen enough from Beach to properly assess his potential to reach the NHL. Is he ready right now? Absolutely not. But another year in the AHL, possibly two, will give us a more accurate indication of Beach's future.

If Beach does not smarten up, he will be shown the door. Its that simple. Its clear from the fact that they were unwilling to call him up that they will not let his first round status influence their opinion of him and they will not put him in an NHL role unless they feel he can contribute in a positive way. 

If Beach does smarten up and properly utilize his natural ability, the Blackhawks will have a player that fits perfectly with their needs. At that point, Beach will cease being a problem and start being a solution.

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