Florida Panthers’ Matthew Tkachuk and Sasha Barkov discuss their mindsets after losing three straight prior to the last game of the year against the Oilers.

MONTREAL— “I knew we were getting a guy who’s a pure scorer,” said Chris Lazary.

When we asked the Saginaw Spirit coach what he knew of Owen Beck before general manager Dave Drinkill made his acquisition from the Peterborough Petes following the 2024 world junior championship, those were the first words out of his mouth, and they caught our attention.

Much more so than what Lazary said next.

Because three minutes into our short phone conversation Friday morning, when he started listing off Beck’s faceoff prowess, his defensive acumen and penalty killing ability before referring to him as arguably the best 200-foot player in the Ontario Hockey League, he was echoing what virtually everyone has said about the six-foot centre since well before the Montreal Canadiens selected him 33rd overall in 2022.

But that first thing? That was different.

It struck at the root of what almost everyone seems to overlook about Beck in projecting what he’ll become as a fully-baked player in the National Hockey League down the line — that his offensive ability can make him more than just a third-line centre.

“I do think he can burst through that ceiling,” said Lazary.

Watching Beck excel in his system — from early days in January to the second one in June, when Beck scored two goals and put on an MVP performance against the London Knights to help deliver Saginaw its first Memorial Cup — provided all the evidence he needed to make that assertion.

Lazary’s offensive-zone concepts encouraged free thinking and movement, creative plays over by-the-book ones, and they enabled Beck’s intelligence, physical engagement and skill and helped him unlock the most unheralded part of his game. And It led Lazary to his firm conclusion.

“I do think he can push up into that 2C role in the NHL,” he said. “But if his worst case is as a third centre, I don’t see any issue with that. You need those guys to win.

“I do think he has more than that, though.”

There was nothing hyperbolic about that statement.

The player backed it up with 18 goals and 51 points in 32 regular-season games before scoring four goals and 14 points in 17 playoff contests with Saginaw, and what he showed in addition to that was something that would only reinforce Lazary’s belief.

“He’s a competitor that wants to win,” he said. “You get those guys at the [trade] deadline, you’re not sure if they’re really going to want to win or they’re just coming over to play out the string of their OHL career. But he came in and his sole mission was to win this Memorial Cup. It was the only thing left from an individual perspective that he did not win in junior. He won gold at the World Js [in 2023], he won the league, but the Memorial Cup was missing for him. He was on a mission.

“He’s a competitive guy that absolutely hates to lose, and that’s even pre-Mem Cup. During the regular season and into the playoffs, he did not want to lose. He’s highly competitive.”

Beck is confident, too, without being arrogant.

When we caught up with him this past Wednesday, upon his return from a one-week vacation in Aruba, he was self-assured but measured, and particularly balanced in responding the most pointed question we had for him.

“What runs through your mind when you hear Owen Beck will top out as a good third-line centre,” we asked.

“I mean, I get it. Everybody has an opinion and they’re entitled to it,” the 20-year-old conceded. “I just believe my internal competencies are so much more than that. And, you know, obviously, if you’re a third-line centre on a Stanley Cup-winning team, you’re still playing a big role, and that’s something that I would look to do if need be.

“But I also see myself developing to a point where I could be a top-six guy and obviously believe in myself. But time will tell.”

Beck wasn’t going to make any bold proclamations about his future — about whether or not he’d be beginning his professional career this fall with the Canadiens or their minor-league affiliate in Laval, or if he’d one day be finishing it as a top point producer in the NHL. What he said was that he was, and would continue doing, everything possible to give himself the best chance to succeed.

Beck said this past year taught him a lot about himself, about how to keep it in perspective that he’s a constant work in progress, about how to navigate the ups and downs of a season while maintaining focus on his goals, about how to find different ways to produce offence while continuing to build up the strong defensive foundation of his game, and about how he could best serve his own development on and off the ice.

He then credited the Cana

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