Don't Underestimate Beau Bennett... Or His Absence by @PandaPSU

(Photo courtesy of SI.com)
I guess you could say Beau Bennett has been a bit of an overachiever. He was born in the NHL hotbed (not really) of Gardena, CA, and while everyone knows California really is not known for their hockey, not many people know that only 29 players who were born in California went on to have an NHL career. In similar fashion to the Pittsburgh area with Mario Lemieux and Jaromir Jagr, hockey did not take off in California until Wayne Gretzky was traded to the Los Angeles Kings in 1988. Beau Bennett was born in 1991, right when things were really surging in the area. In 2009, he joined the British Columbia Hockey League (BCHL) to play for the Penticton Vees. He played on the top line and got off to a hot start before leaving the team to represent the USA at the World Junior A Challenge. He ended up winning a gold medal before coming back to Penticton to help lead his team to a deep playoff run. He tied for the league lead in points with 120 (41 G, 79 A), and won the BCHL's Rookie of the Year Award.

With his scoring touch and impressive hands, it is easy to see why the Penguins made him the highest drafted native-Californian at number 20 in the 2010 NHL Draft. He went on to play two seasons at the University of Denver, where he made solid contributions. Unfortunately, both seasons were hampered with injuries, especially the second season where he ruptured a tendon in his wrist and missed the final 29 games. He started to come into his own in the 2012-13 season with the Wilkes-Barre Penguins. He tallied 28 points in 39 games before being called up to the Penguins in February after the lockout. He impressed Wilkes-Barre Penguins coach, John Hynes, who had this to say at the time:

“Beau’s a real pleasure to coach and he’s done a real nice job of making the transition from college to the AHL. He’s a high-compete-level, high-talent player. He has great vision and when you give him time and space, he make can make high-end plays. He has a solid assessment of the areas where he needs to get better. He’s working on making plays under pressure. He’s finding that balance between making simple, smart plays when there’s pressure and then using his creativity when he has time and space. He’s a great young talent.”

Make no mistake about it, while Beau Bennett was relegated to the third line for much of last season, it was because the Penguins had so much talent on the roster. No one envisioned Ray Shero would go out and get Jarome Iginla and Brenden Morrow at the trade deadline. When the Penguins drafted Beau Bennett in 2010, they envisioned him being a top-six forward for the organization, and this notion was reaffirmed by Coach Dan Bylsma during this offseason:

"Beau Bennett, is going to certainly, I think, be a guy that would look to be in the top-six forwards next year in our group."

(Photo courtesy of NBCSports.com)

Some folks still were not sold on Beau Bennett, and to be fair, they had not seen enough of him to be. But, there are certain players that do not need to have an impressive stat sheet to know they will be good. Beau Bennett passes the most basic test of all, and that is the eye test. He played briefly last year with Evgeni Malkin and never looked out of place. This was where he belonged, playing with some of the most skilled forwards in the game. That is why last week with Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin struggling, Bylsma changed the Penguins' lineup. He placed Bennett on a line with Crosby and Kunitz, which allowed Dupuis to play with Neal and Malkin. The move reaped immediate benefits. Bennett was in the lineup for three games. In that time, Crosby scored three goals and two assists (although one goal happened with Bennett on the bench), and Malkin scored a goal and five assists. Bennett himself also tallied a goal against the Capitals. The move worked beautifully to not only ignite Crosby and Malkin, but to make the Penguins' lineup more balanced. When the team can have Jussi Jokinen on the third line with Sutter, it makes the first three lines scoring threats. 

(Photo courtesy of Pittsburgh CBS)

All of this makes Bennett's injury, which he suffered sometime during the Islanders game on Friday night, terrible timing. The Penguins were able to eke out a 4-3 victory that night, but had more trouble generating offense the following evening against Montreal in a 3-2 defeat. With the team having cap issues, they need a player like Bennett to fill a top-six role. The team simply does not have the luxury to go out and get a top-six forward, and this team lacks depth. The Pens will most likely go back to their "old standard" lines of 14-87-9 and 18-71-36, but their bottom two lines will suffer a great deal. The only thing the team can hope for is that Beau's injury will not derail him for much of the regular season. Josh Yohe reported Saturday that the injury is not a matter of days but longer, and could potentially be serious. If it is a similar injury to the one he suffered in junior hockey, he will miss a significant portion of this season. The team and the fans should hope for positive news in the next few days. Who knew a California-born hockey player could hold the key to much of the Penguins success this season?

















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