The NHL season has yet to begin, but Jay Beagle is already making an impression on his Vancouver Canucks teammates.
The 32-year-old centre’s speed, fitness and leadership all turned heads at training camp in Whistler, B.C., this weekend.
“I don’t think I’ve ever seen a professional athlete like that before in real life,” said Adam Gaudette, who played five games with the Canucks last year and is competing for a spot on this season’s roster.
“It’s pretty cool to come in see. I’m just trying to watch what he does on and off the ice. ... I’m just trying to emulate him as much as possible.”
Beagle came to Vancouver from the Stanley Cup-winning Washington Capitals. He put up 22 points in the regular season last year, plus another two goals and six assists in the playoffs.
The Calgary native inked a four-year contract worth an average US$3-million per year with the Canucks on July 1, one of three free-agent forwards signed by the team.
Canucks GM Jim Benning said at the time that the club was looking to round out a group of young talent with experience and grit.
So far, Beagle is filling the role, Vancouver coach Travis Green said Sunday.
“He’s a top-conditioned athlete that works really hard, has great habits,” Green said. “He’s come as advertised so far.”
Coming into a new organization and not knowing anyone has been a new sensation for Beagle, who spent the first 10 years of his NHL career with the Capitals.
Training camp has been full of hard work, high-tempo skating and opportunities to get to know new teammates, he said.
“It’s a close group and everyone’s here for the same goal and focused on just working hard and getting better every day,” he said.
The veteran’s fitness has been a topic of conversation around the rink in Whistler, but Beagle said he didn’t do anything special to get ready for the Canucks camp this off-season.
“It’s just who I am,” he said.
He has been working on his speed, though, saying it’s been an ongoing project over the past three or four years as the pace of play throughout the league gets increasingly faster.
“You have to keep that speed just to stay with [the younger guys] and make sure that you’re always pushing every year to come into camp in the best shape possible and fast as you can be,” Beagle said.
He’s also pushing his teammates on the ice.
Gaudette said whenever he’s found himself flagging during drills at camp, Beagle is there, giving him a confidence boost and urging him on.
“He’s just kind of revving me up, getting me going,” the 21-year-old said. “So it’s good to have that. It just makes it all the more fun and I think it brings the guys closer together.”
Beagle said he isn’t much of a talker in the locker room, preferring to lead by example. He didn’t intend to take Gaudette under his wing, but is happy to help the younger centre any way he can.
“[Gaudette’s] a great kid, a great guy. ... I’ll try not to let him down,” Beagle said with a laugh. “He wants to learn and wants to compete and that’s a good guy to have around.”
Adding experience and leadership is key for the Canucks, who are down three beloved veterans this season. Henrik and Daniel Sedin retired after 17 seasons with the club, and Derek Dorsett ended his career in November over spinal issues.
As one of the older players, Beagle will be expected to take on a bit of leadership position, but it’s a job that will be shared in the dressing room, Green said.
“We’ve got a lot of good guys that can help in that area as well,” he said.
Beagle describes his role with the Canucks as “interesting.”
“I just try to come in and lead by example, work hard every day, have fun with these guys and just build something here that’s going to last,” he said.