Kris Beech takes nothing for granted these days.
Thanks to injuries to wingers David Vyborny and Fred Modin, the Columbus Blue Jackets centre has recently been playing between Rick Nash and Nikolai Zherdev.
A far cry from the role in which the former Calgary Hitmen star thought he'd find himself after being a late call-up from Syracuse before his Jackets beat the Calgary Flames in their Dec. 1 meeting at the Saddledome.
"When I got called up, I figured I'd just be just a plug-in. I got a chance to play a little bit, and I'm trying to do what I can," said Beech before last night's rematch at the Nationwide Arena.
Beech wasn't prepped for his promotion to the top line.
"They just wrote it on the board. I've been playing with them the past couple of games. I'm not trying to do anything special," he said.
"It's not a big deal."
Maybe his mellow approach is due to the fact he has played with superstars of Nash's calibre before. Drafted by the Washington Capitals seventh overall in 1999 -- the same year his Hitmen fell one overtime goal short for a Memorial Cup title against the Ottawa 67s -- Beech has been teamed at times with Alex Kovalev and Mario Lemieux in Pittsburgh, as well as Alex Ovechkin in his second stint with the Caps a year ago.
All the offensive talent in the world, though, couldn't keep the 26-year-old Beech in a single NHL city.
He bounced from Washington to Pittsburgh to Nashville and back to Washington before signing a one-year free-agent deal with the Blue Jackets this summer.
A new outlook came with his new contract.
He no longer worries about how many minutes he's playing a night, or how many points he puts on the scoresheet.
For the record, though, he took a point-a-game pace over his last seven outings into last night's contest.
"That stuff's over. I'll play seven minutes a game, I don't care," said Beech. "I'll try to do my best regardless of the situation. I don't worry about that anymore. I don't worry about that at all."
The pressure of being a top-10 draft pick was followed by being part of the trade that sent Jaromir Jagr to Pittsburgh, and Beech said recently he worried about living up to the hype.
"In the past, I put so much pressure on myself to step right in and produce lots of points," Beech told the Columbus Dispatch. "Now, I'm not worried about the numbers. That's the attitude I've got now. It's a lot easier game to play, just worrying about what you can control. And your work ethic is the only thing you can control."
His latest head coach, Ken Hitchcock, said yesterday Beech is learning what it takes in terms of work ethic to stick in the NHL.
His first-line role may be temporary, but the way he is "reinventing" himself will help him as a professional.
"Yes, he's got a point a game, but he's been a good two-way player for us," said Hitchcock.
"He's never going to go back to the point totals that he had in junior or had in the minors, but I think if he continues his development, he could end up being a really good pro because he's so smart.