Greg Beller must be doing something right.
A relative unknown when the New York Rangers selected him in the sixth round of last month’s NHL entry draft, the Rainy River product turned some heads at the club’s annual prospect camp two weeks ago.
He impressed the coaching staff despite being a full year or two younger than most of the others at the camp and still nursing a sore knee—the result of a torn meniscus he suffered in mid-April.
In fact, the hard-working teen played well enough at the six-day development camp to earn an invitation to the Blueshirts’ rookie camp in September.
There, he’ll likely share the ice with junior snipers Nigel Dawes and Jakob Petruzalek, standout college goalie Al Montoya, and a even handful of players who spent last season with the team’s top minor league affiliate, the Hartford Wolfpack.
“I guess I did pretty good,” Beller said modestly of the prospect camp, which wrapped up Aug. 13. “They really liked my skills, they were really impressed with that.”
So impressed, in fact, that the Rangers coaching staff even called on the 18-year-old left-winger to demonstrate a few stickhandling drills for the other hockey hopefuls in the Big Apple for the camp—proof the hours upon hours that Beller spent honing his talent are now starting to pay off.
“It was worth every minute of it,” Beller beamed. “The quality of play there was very, very high. And it was fun, as well.”
Each year, NHL squads hold development camps to evaluate the progress of their draft picks and other prospects.
The Rangers’ had their youngsters at the rink for about eight hours each day, taking part in skills and practice sessions, off-ice training, classroom activities, and even chatting about the importance of mental toughness and how to deal with the media.
The 40-man camp roster included 26 skaters who suited up on one of the Canadian Hockey League’s (CHL) three major junior circuits last year and 12 American collegiate stars.
The lone one high school player there was Beller, who tallied 23 goals and 25 assists last season with the Lake of the Woods Bears (Baudette, Mn.)
He also played a few games for the now defunct Borderland Thunder.
Although he was a little unsure how he’d stack up against the major junior skaters, Beller, who never got a sniff of attention from CHL scouts, said he doesn’t put a lot of stock into the fact he was the only high school player at the camp.
“You can say what you like about where a guy is coming out of but . . . if you’re good enough, it doesn’t matter where you played,” Beller reasoned.
“I felt I fit in pretty well,” he added. “I feel a lot more confident in my abilities than when I went in.”
For Beller, who at 6’3” and 200 pounds already has an NHL-sized frame, the next test will be rookie camp, where he’ll be looking to further increase his stock with the Rangers—one of the NHL’s most vaunted franchises.
There, the top youngsters will earn an invite to the team’s main camp, where they’ll join superstar forwards Jaromir Jagr and Martin Straka, among others, vying for a spot on the opening day roster.
But Beller isn’t looking too far ahead. For now, his focus is on getting his injured knee back in prime condition.
“I’m really trying hard to get my legs back in shape,” he remarked. “It’s really hard to get back the muscle that you lost and I noticed it out there.
“I was slower than I should have been and I was a bit weak on my feet.”
Not wanting to put the teen at risk of re-injury, the Rangers’ brass kept Beller off the ice for the handful of scrimmages conducted at the development camp.
But while the hulking forward said it was a bit tough to sit in the stands and watch, he felt he performed well when he got the chance.
Only days removed from his first taste of New York’s bright lights, Beller already is working on incorporating some of the tips he received from the Blueshirts’ coaching staff into his game.
“Adam Graves told me to lengthen up my stick,” Beller said, noting that using a longer stick generally gives a player a harder shot. “He seemed to think that’d help a lot.”
Of course, Graves, who netted 329 goals and added 287 assists in a 16-year NHL career, knows a thing or two about putting the puck in the back of the net.
And while he’s just trying to make the most of the opportunities he’s been granted thus far, Beller is fuelled by a desire to eventually parlay his skills into an NHL gig, as well.
After all, he was blown away when he saw the luxuries Rangers’ players enjoy every day. Beller was especially impressed with the team’s training centre in nearby Tarrytown, N.Y., a facility complete with hot tubs, cold tubs, steam rooms. and a players’ lounge that includes leather sofas and ping-pong tables.
“They’ve got all the perks you could ever want there,” Beller enthused. “It was just an amazing experience to see what these NHL guys get.”
Beller, who was selected with the 178th overall pick in the July 30 draft, still plans to suit up with the Green Bay Gamblers of the United States Hockey League this coming season.
Greg Beller must be doing something right.