October 1, 2001
By DEJAN KOVACEVIC
Kris Beech was acquired by the Pittsburgh Penguins for Jaromir Jagr
in July. And already, he is being asked to help fill his vacancy.
In a big way.
Beech, a 20-year-old rookie, practiced on the team's top line for the
first time at practice today alongside Mario Lemieux and Stephane
Richer, and that trio will remain intact for the regular-season
opener against the Colorado Avalanche Wednesday at Mellon Arena.
He found out early this morning when he reported to the team's
Southpointe locker room and saw a white sweater hanging from his
stall. He looked around the room and saw that Lemieux and Richer had
the only matching colors.
"All I wanted to do was come in here and make the team," Beech
said. "This is more than I expected. ... This is exciting for me.
I've watched Mario play a lot. It just seems like I know where to put
the puck for him."
Beech, who had a strong camp despite recording only one goal in four
games, will be the left winger on the line. Lemieux has flirted with
the notion of moving to center all summer, but he apparently isn't
ready to make the switch just yet. Instead, he and Beech will share
faceoff duties, and Beech will have most of the defensive
"I'm going to start at center. But as I told Beech, I like to be on
the boards a lot, just to create a little bit of movement and speed.
He's going to be in the middle most of the time. ... He's a great
skater. And he can get back very quickly."
Beech was one of three prospects the Penguins obtained from the
Washington Capitals for Jagr. The others are center Michal Sivek and
defenseman Ross Lupaschuk, both of whom also had strong camps. Sivek
is with the AHL's Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins, and Lupaschuk is
still with the big club.
Beech will provide the lone young presence on the top line. Lemieux
will turn 36 Friday, and Richer is 35 and a year removed from his
last NHL action. Richer, who attended camp on a tryout is expected to
sign a contract tonight or tomorrow.
Beech kept his cool throughout the practice, but he had a difficult
time masking his enthusiasm afterward.
"I just hope it all works out for this first game," Beech said. "I'm
pretty excited about that."
Kris Beech-Mario Lemieux-Stephane Richer
Martin Straka-Robert Lang-Alexei Kovalev
Jan Hrdina-Milan Kraft-Aleksey Morozov
Kevin Stevens-Toby Petersen-Dan LaCouture
Darius Kasparaitis-Ian Moran
Mike Wilson-Andrew Ference
Josef Melichar-Michal Rozsival
Brooks Orpik-Ross Lupaschuk
NOTES: Jagr surprised the Penguins by showing up at practice today.
He visited the locker room to greet his former teammates, and he
later had lunch with Coach Ivan Hlinka in a nearby restaurant. Jagr
has been in Pittsburgh the past couple of days to catch up with old
friends. ... Jagr on Beech: "The kid looks good." ... Lemieux expects
to be named captain today or tomorrow. ... Beech also worked with the
Penguins' top power-play unit today, along with Lemieux and Stevens
or Lang as forwards, and Kovalev and Straka on the points. ... The
Penguins still have 24 players in the fold, but they could achieve
the maximum 23 without cutting anyone else if right winger Billy
Tibbetts is placed on injured reserve. He has missed much of camp
with a sore neck. ... The Penguins had two tryout candidates besides
Richer, left winger Bob Errey and defenseman Michel Petit, but both
were cut Saturday night. Errey was slowed by a groin injury for most
of the past three weeks, and Petit was largely ineffective. ... The
Penguins' opener is not yet sold out, and ticket sales are lagging
for all games in October. Team officials say the Sept. 11 terrorist
attacks in New York, Washington and just outside Pittsburgh all but
stopped sales for more than a week.
Dejan Kovacevic covers the Penguins for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.