Canadiens prospect Owen Beck is driven to get back to Montreal as soon as possible

MISSISSAUGA, Ont. – When Owen Beck signed his entry-level contract with the Canadiens on Oct. 4, it came with a $95,000 signing bonus, which works out to roughly $130,000 in Canadian dollars.

That’s a lot of money for an 18-year-old, or anyone, really, and Beck did what so many hockey players have done with their first signing bonus for as long as signing bonuses have existed.

Beck bought his first new car.

Except Beck didn’t do it the way most of his predecessors did. He did not go to his nearest luxury car dealership, he did not find the nicest car he could afford.

Instead, Beck bought a Hyundai.

“I wanted to keep the price reasonable,” Beck said while showing off his new ride after an interview with The Athletic in Mississauga recently.

Now, it should be noted this is not just any Hyundai. It is an Elantra N, which is Hyundai’s sports series. It comes with 19-inch alloy wheels, a sporty red trim, a spoiler in the back and a 276-horsepower engine.

The starting retail price is about $40,000, which, again, is a lot of money for an 18-year-old to spend on a car, but it still only used up about a third of his signing bonus.

It was sensible, and definitely not irresponsible.

“I think so,” Beck’s father, Dave, said with a laugh when asked if his son’s choice of car reflects who he is. “I give him credit in everything he does. It wasn’t a rash or a hasty decision, he thought it through and had that car picked out for probably six months or so before he went and got it. He’s definitely done a lot of research on it.

“There is a practical side to him that realizes in the summer, when he’s training, he has to be able to get his hockey equipment in the car and he has to be able to carpool. He definitely made a more reasonable choice in the Elantra than a (Corvette) or something like that.”

When you sit down and talk to Beck, you quickly realize you are not talking to a typical 18-year-old who recently finished his first NHL training camp and had praise heaped on him from all corners for how well he performed. Game after game, it was Beck being requested for media interviews because his performance demanded it. And it wasn’t only the media, the Canadiens organization also made it clear to him how excited they are to have drafted him with the No. 33 pick in the 2022 NHL draft.

Beck would have every reason to be feeling pretty good about himself, to have a bit of a big head right now, but that is not what Beck is about. He returned to the Mississauga Steelheads to play what he hopes will be his final year of junior hockey with a clear mission, and that is to improve enough to make it impossible for the Canadiens to cut him at his next NHL training camp.

“That’s my goal on a personal level,” Beck said between sips at a Mississauga coffee shop. “There’s lots of other things going on obviously, like World Juniors and all that on a personal level, then on top of that trying to win a championship as a team. There’s a lot to balance, but on the Montreal side, keeping my eye on that goal and working towards it every day is something I’m trying to come in and do while I’m here. I’m always trying to keep the mindset that I could be in Montreal sooner than later, just keep it in mind every day and work towards it. It’s kind of unbelievable to think about it.

“Even though I’m playing junior right now, I’ve got to keep the mindset that I could be a pro player very soon, keep that mentality every night and not let that slip my mind.”

Before Beck left for Canadiens rookie camp, his coach with the Mississauga Steelheads, James Richmond, told him to watch the veteran players every chance he got. Watch them play, watch them practice, watch them prepare, watch how they act in the dressing room, how they treat teammates, everything. Just watch the veterans and soak in everything you can. When Beck returned to Mississauga, he told Richmond he was right. Beck was amazed at how hard the most established players worked, everything they did to perform at a top level.

It left an impression on him.

“I think when he came back, he always had a real strong work ethic here last year,” Richmond said, “but it’s raised now that he’s got a taste of what the Canadiens are about.”

Beck had a goal of raising the offensive side of his game in Mississauga and going into his game Sunday afternoon, he had done that with 14 points in his first nine games. But he’s not about to let that point of emphasis change who he is as a hockey player, because the Canadiens didn’t necessarily draft him for his offence.

“(The Canadiens) love my 200-foot game so much that they don’t want me to change it and sacrifice that 200-foot game for the offensive side,” Beck said. “So it’s kind of a balancing act between the two different styles of play and trying to integrate them into one.”

Beck’s choice of car is not the only thing that makes him a unique hockey player. There is also the fact Beck is an excellent student.

The 2022 OHL scholastic player of the year, Beck maintained a 94 percent average in his last year of high school with a difficult course load he chose in order to keep his options open for university. Beck is taking this year off from school to focus on hockey, but if that weren’t the case, he’d be aiming high in terms of what he would be studying.

“Probably trying to get into health sciences and medicine,” Beck said. “I took a lot of science courses, chemistry, biology and all the necessary math courses because that’s mostly what I’m interested in. On the sports side of things, I’m always interested in any injuries that I may have, how treatments work to heal it, what’s happened to the body that isn’t quite normal. So that’s where I think I’d be going if I were still in school right now.”

Owen Beck after our interview in Mississauga. (Arpon Basu/The Athletic)

The Canadiens are all in on hockey sense. Coach Martin St. Louis and head of hockey development Adam Nicholas are both believers in the notion that hockey sense can be taught, that it can be developed. In Beck, however, they have a player whose hockey sense is fed by a strong academic background. School smarts don’t necessarily correlate to hockey smarts, but Beck feels in his case they most certainly do.

“It’s tough to say for sure, but I find it hard to say being strong academically doesn’t lead to strong hockey IQ,” Beck said. “If you read a lot of the scouting reports, many of them will say that hockey IQ is my number one asset. I think it’s hard to say there isn’t a correlation there, because being able to think through a math problem, even if it’s not the same as thinking through a problem on the ice, I think just being able to do both of those quickly and effectively is very valuable in both sports and academics.”

Richmond sees it in the way Beck can quickly absorb what he is shown in the video room or told on the bench and apply it to his game on the ice.

“When a high-end player does well in his academic studies, he’s usually going to be able to pick things up quicker when we’re talking about adding pieces to his game,” Richmond said. “So, for Owen, you’re talking about little things, details about being lower in the d-zone and leaving at the right time, he’s able to pick that up quicker than most young guys. So it transfers over. He’s got a good brain for the game, he’s got a good brain in the classroom.”

Beck has always taken the same driven approach he has in hockey and applied it to his studies. It was a priority for his family, but his father said they didn’t really need to motivate Beck in the classroom.

“He’s always been a good student. It’s something that we always stressed as being important,” Dave Beck said. “We encouraged sports, but school was always first priority. So I guess that was always the environment he grew up in.

“He was always pretty self-driven to be successful, whether that was in sports or in school. It always made our lives as parents very easy.”

With more free time this season, Beck is spending more time reading. His current book is Mark Messier’s memoir, “No One Wins Alone.”

But that free time will also be applied to his eventual move to Montreal.

Beck took French immersion in school through grade 6 and was in a core French program through grade 9, when he switched to make sure he had all his prerequisites for medical school. He says he feels his French has faded since then, and he wants to use the time he has this season to get it to a level where he could eventually conduct interviews in French.

“I want to rekindle my knowledge of the French language,” Beck said. “Obviously, playing for Montreal hopefully fairly soon, it’s important to the fans.”

Beck gave Duolingo a try and didn’t find it all that useful.

It was too easy.

“I’ve tried Duolingo and I find that it’s a little bit simplistic and not necessarily the kind of French that I need,” he said. I need more conversive French, so I think I’m going to look for somebody to talk to, and if not, hopefully I’ll find a different learning tool that I can use that’s similar to Duolingo, but that’s not Duolingo. I tried that and it hasn’t worked too well for me.”

Where Beck is from is a big part of who he is. He grew up in Port Hope, a small town on the shores of Lake Ontario roughly 100 kilometres east of Toronto, but also a world away.

“Kind of just the small-town environment, I like the closeness of the town,” Beck said. “I like the idea of a small-town kid making it to the big leagues. It doesn’t happen too often. It’s the small-town pride that I feel.”

That small-town environment wasn’t always ideal for hockey, however. It was harder to get the same exposure as a kid growing up in the greater Toronto area, but as Beck continued to show promise as a hockey player, his family decided they would do what they could to get him more opportunities.

What clinched it was Beck’s Pee Wee AA team winning the Ontario Hockey Federation title when he was 14.

Beck (second from left, front row) celebrates the OHF championship with his Pee Wee teammates. (Photo courtesy of Dave Beck)

That led to the decision for Beck to play AAA hockey in Quinte, roughly 45 minutes away. That return trip was made several times a week for practices.

“After winning the OHF’s we thought we should give him that opportunity,” Dave Beck said. “He’s never really looked back since.”

Quinte is where Richmond first saw Beck. The Steelheads’ director of scouting is Rob Toffoli, Tyler’s father, and he told his general manager that making the trip out to Quinte would be worth his while.

“Owen played on a good U16 team, but there were players on his team that played more than he did, that were more highly touted,” Richmond said. “I remember driving with (Toffoli) to go see him, and I fell in love with him myself. I thought he was the best player on his team. He competed in all three zones of the ice, and sometimes a 15-year-old will only compete when he has the puck or when he’s in the offensive zone. This kid competed in all three zones.”

Owen Beck celebrated an OMHA championship with Quinte at age 15 in 2019. (Photo courtesy of Dave Beck)

Those are the same qualities that have drawn the Canadiens to Beck. You only needed to see the look on co-scouting director Nick Bobrov’s face as Beck dominated the prospects tournament in Buffalo in September to know how he felt about landing a complete player like Beck in the second round.

And the Canadiens are keeping close tabs on their prized prospect. Director of player development Rob Ramage is in regular contact with him, Beck says, while Adam Nicholas also watches his games and provides feedback, even if it can be somewhat simplistic at times.

“My game in London when I scored my first two goals of the year, (Nicholas) texted me. He kind of seems like just another player, he just texted me and said ‘Yessir!’ or something like that. A get-you-excited, pump-you-up kind of thing. He also gives you advice and whatnot. He’s been great to talk to.”

Canadiens director of sports science and performance Adam Douglas also sends Beck workout programs to follow. Basically, Beck is fully aware the Canadiens are watching, which must help with motivation to perform every night, even though he doesn’t really need that.

His training camp experience in Montreal only adds to that motivation. One of Beck’s lasting memories is the first time he stepped onto the ice as a player at the Bell Centre. It was the Red-White scrimmage, not even a preseason game, and the feeling he had that day has stuck with him.

“The fact that was sold out was ridiculous,” Beck said. “It was awesome. It was probably the coolest thing I’ve been a part of, just walking out for warmups and how excited the crowd got the first time we stepped on the ice. It was just unbelievable. I think that was probably the best warmups of my life, the one where I had the most fun, vibing to the music and everything, looking around almost in awe.”

Beck is highly motivated to get back to that building, back playing in front of those fans, except in games that actually matter. He is doing everything he can to make that happen as soon as possible without taking anything for granted, despite the rave reviews he’s received.

“It’s nice to have that praise, but I don’t want to let it get to my head,” Beck said. “I think it’s given me the right amount of confidence coming back here, but not too much in the sense of me being over-confident and thinking that maybe I shouldn’t be playing in this league. The OHL’s a great league.

“It’s kind of right in (the) sweet spot where I have a good sense of where my future’s going, but I’m not rushed to get there at the moment.”

That’s a pretty sensible way of seeing things, because Beck is a sensible young man. He is focused on where he is and what he is doing right now in order to make that future a reality.

And once he gets there, once he makes it, maybe he will allow himself the luxury of upgrading his car.

(Top photo of Owen Beck: David Kirouac / Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

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