An Off-Season to Forget
The 2014-15 season was going to be a season of redemption, a season of proving people wrong for the Pittsburgh Penguins. After losing three straight games in the Eastern Conference Second Round to the New York Rangers, changes were going to be made. Players such as Tanner Glass, Brian Gibbons, Lee Stempniak, Jussi Jokinen, Matt Niskanen, Brooks Orpik and Joe Vitale found new homes via free agency and James Neal was eventually traded to the Nashville Predators. General Manager Ray Shero and head coach Dan Bylsma were relieved of their duties and replaced by new general manager Jim Rutherford and head coach Mike Johnston. Injuries to players like Pascal Dupuis and Olli Maatta created gaps in the Penguins’ preseason roster that allowed hungry prospects to fill those spots.
There were some bright spots during camp such as Simon Despres and Robert Bortuzzo’s improved play on the blueline, the emergence of 2014 first-round draft pick, Finnish winger Kasperi Kapanen and 2012 third-round pick, Swedish centerman Oskar Sundqvist, but there was no brighter spot than a healthy, quicker and stronger Beau Bennett.
Bennett, who was drafted 20th overall in the 2010 NHL Entry Draft, had served some time with the main roster, accumulating 21 points (6G, 15A) in 47 games over two seasons. Arguably the best forward prospect for the Penguins, all was looking good for the highest drafted California-born player in NHL history until an unfortunate situation forced the Gardena native to find himself in a familiar spot.
Beau Bennett Rehabbing In Wilkes-Barre
After suffering a lower body injury in the preseason, Pittsburgh Penguins’ right winger Beau Bennett found himself rehabbing in Northeastern Pennsylvania. Bennett, who will turn 23 on November 27th, has been with the Penguins’ AHL affiliate Wilkes-Barre/Scranton for two games during his rehab assignment and has picked up five assists during that time frame. He is a plus-4 and has put six shots on net. While his lack of shots could be a cause for concern for Penguins fans, fret not for he leads the team to victories.
The Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins went a perfect 3-for-3 this past weekend, defeating rival Hershey Bears in overtime on Friday night in overtime (Bennett with his first assist), on the road against the Binghamton Senators on Saturday by a score of 6-4, and concluding the trip on Sunday against the Syracuse Crunch, 5-4 in overtime (Bennett with four assists). His presence alone had to be a jump start for a team that coming into that weekend stretch had only scored three goals in three of their previous eleven contests. Their record during that time was a mediocre 5-5-1. After that three game winning streak, the Penguins sit atop the East Division standings with an 8-5-1 record, two points above the Hershey Bears, 7-5-1.
Nothing New For Bennett
Overcoming injuries is not a new task for Beau Bennett who has been injured several times over the last few years. While playing for the University of Denver in the 2011-12 season, Bennett’s season was cut short after ten games due to a ruptured tendon in his wrist, putting up 13 points (4G, 9A). Bennett suffered a broken wrist in the 2013-14 campaign with the Pittsburgh Penguins, forcing him to miss four months. With the lower-body injury suffered in September, Bennett has been banged up and on the shelf for considerable time periods three times in three years.
Penguins fans are anxious for a Bennett return, but must be leery of his injury-filled background. Throughout the off-season, countless remarks were made about Bennett’s speed and lower-body strength. Despite his improvements in the aforementioned categories, how will this injury affect him in the long-term? Does it set him back or does his rehab make him even stronger? Remember when Evgeni Malkin tore his ACL against Buffalo? He came back to dominate the following season and win the Hart Memorial and Art Ross Trophy, as he was the only player to amass 100 points (50G, 59A) in the 2011-12 campaign. Though it is incredibly unlikely Beau Bennett will put up any numbers close to those, it is still possible for him to return to Pittsburgh and put up a respectable season.
The Return and What to Focus On
Bennett has had a negative stigma of being fragile, there is no question about that. Had he had a full season in Pittsburgh in 2013-14, who knows what kind of numbers he could have put up. If his hot start in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton is any indication of what he can provide to the Penguins’ forward group, his return cannot come soon enough.
While it is expected Beau Bennett will make his debut sooner than later with the Penguins, where he will be placed in the line-up is sure to cause disruptions throughout a Penguins team that has won seven straight. I expect for No. 19 to make his debut alongside Evgeni Malkin once he is cleared to play in Pittsburgh. The top-six forwards, in my eyes, would look to keep Chris Kunitz-Sidney Crosby-Patric Hornqvist together, while Blake Comeau would be bounced down to the fourth-line replacing and scratching Zach Sill out of the line-up. Bennett would find himself on the right-wing on a line with Malkin and Pascal Dupuis, while the third line of Nick Spaling-Brandon Sutter-Steve Downie would remain the same.
Whatever Mike Johnston has in mind for “Sunshine” when he returns back to the line-up will have to wait until the time approaches. Fans can hypothesize about Bennett’s role and possible production with team, but must be patient until he does make his return.
His offensive skill and talent has never been in question. His vision and creativity has been evident and marveled at during his tenure with the Penguins. Even his defensive game was improved from his time in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton to his call-up to Pittsburgh. When he is healthy, Beau Bennett is a complete and gifted player that the Penguins would be more than happy to have in an already deep, productive line-up.
There is no question that if Bennett is healthy, his right shot could benefit just as much on Malkin’s wing as Hornqvist has on Crosby’s. Bennett adds scoring depth to a second power-play unit and throughout their four lines. He brings a defensive responsibility and is willing to hit when need be. Beau Bennett wants to prove himself to the Pittsburgh Penguins brass, and fans, but it must come with a cautious approach, as he is no help to the Penguins sitting in the press box and on the injured reserve sheet.