Bennett takes the next step
Beau Bennett, Pittsburgh’s first round draft pick from 2010, is leaving the NCAA behind this year to join the pros. The 6’1”, 20-year-old right wing from Gardena, California signed an entry-level deal at the end of his sophomore year at Denver University, where he notched 13 goals and 25 assists in 47 career games. The Penguins are extremely happy to have signed Bennett.
Penguins head coach Dan Bylsma, who described Bennett as a “guy who you see in a top-six role,” talked about the forward’s role on the team in the immediate future.
”You’ll see I think a possibility of seeing some of the younger players in our organization get a chance to play (on the top two lines) as well,” Bylsma said. “Whether it’s Eric Tangradi playing on a top-six role, which we’ve heard a lot about over the last three years, or Beau Bennett getting a chance to play there in exhibition.”
It’s that chance, Bennett said, that coaxed him to come to Pittsburgh this year.
“I think there’s opportunity here,” he said. “I mean, I would have loved to win a National Championship, that’s something you can share with your teammates for a really long time. I think right now though…going forward I want to put myself in a spot where I can have an opportunity to maybe take that big step. “
Bennett feels he’s ready for the next step in his career despite the fact that he was sidelined much of last season due to a wrist injury.
“The injuries kind of made it a little different than the normal route, but I learned a lot just being away from the game and being in the gym,” he said. “It was still a productive year even though I played 10 games.”
Bennett noted that he had some help making the decision to leave Denver.
“I thought just based on that little sample size (of games last year) I felt like I was moving in the right direction,” he said. “I gained some weight and I just felt it was time, and that was the consensus around everyone that I was talking to, so it was a decision I’m not going to look back on. It was a decision that me and my family made, and I think it was the right one.”
For their part, the Penguins say they did not influence Bennett’s decision either way.
“For the most part we’re a college organization, from top to bottom,” Tom Fitzgerald, Assistant to the General Manager, said. “We believe in the NCAA. To go to someone and pull him out (of college), that’s not our style. We’re a front-door organization. We take the high road with whether it’s talking with a Junior coach or NCAA coach.”
While the Penguins consider themselves a college organization, that certainly doesn’t mean they’re not happy with Bennett’s choice.
“When his decision was to leave the University of Denver, we said ‘sounds great,’” Fitzgerald said. “We’re very much open to that.”
What it could mean for the Penguins is that they will have the skilled winger they need on a top line sooner rather than later.
“We see guys like Beau Bennett, whom we’ve drafted, now turn pro,” Bylsma said. “He’s a high-end, talented guy that is expected to be able to (fill in at the NHL level) at some point in time, and he’s turned pro here. So this development camp is really a different look for him as he comes in as a pro player and as he heads into training camp as a professional player signed under contract.”
For fans, it means they may soon be able to enjoy Bennett’s renowned creativity with the puck.
“I think just keeping the game fun, that’s part of it,” Bennett said of his unique style. “Playing roller hockey definitely helps. You definitely have to be more creative, (there are) no checks, so it’s harder to get to the net and stuff like that.”
Despite the lofty expectations for Bennett, his goal for the remainder of the summer, like all of the other prospects at this year’s camp, is mainly to work on his conditioning.
“I need to get a lot better come September,” Bennett said. “That’s going to be a big focus, just trying to get my conditioning up and being ready to play with the bigger guys.”
Bennett says he is not specifically preparing to play with one of the Penguins two star centers, though.
“I think just focusing on my training first and foremost and if I ever get that chance, then hopefully I’ll be ready,” he said.
And if he does make it to either Crosby or Malkin’s wing sometime in the future, it’s fair to say that participation in roller hockey in Western Pennsylvania will increase.