How the Injury to "Glass Beau" Bennett Affects the Penguins' Depth and Power-Play by @DXTraeger
3:06:00 PM Beau Bennett , Blake Comeau , Craig Adams , Dan Bylsma , Injury , Kasperi Kapanen , Mike Johnston , Pittsburgh Penguins , Ray Shero Edit
To call the career of Pittsburgh Penguins forward Beau Bennett "mercurial" is fair, and mercurial is a contextually appropriate assessment of his play given the bevy of talented yet unproductive skaters that have historically dotted the NHL landscape.
With today's news that Beau Bennett suffered an apparent knee injury during practice at the Consol Energy Center comes the reality that whatever untapped potential Bennett may possess may have to be realized for another team.
As a California kid with frosted hair tips, Bennett was always a feel-good story of home-grown American hockey talent. His path to the NHL included time as a roller hockey player since, contrary to what NHL Commissioner would have you believe, frozen ponds do NOT typically line the drought and desert-filled Californian coast.
In 2012, then-GM Ray Shero signed Bennett to a three year entry-level deal with the Penguins, and Bennett turned out to be Shero's only real offensive draft acquisition during Shero's tenure with the team.
Whether or not the pressure of being the only NHL-caliber forward in the Penguins' farm system ever affected Bennett's production is a matter of debate. What can't be denied is that a string of wrist injuries, stemming from his time at the University of Denver, continued into the NHL and denied the popular young player of valuable ice time and opportunities.
After losing much of the 2013-2014 season to wrist and various other body ailments, Bennett was enjoying a stellar pre-season and seemed poised to help anchor a revitalized third line alongside Brandon Sutter and offseason acquisition Steve Downie.
Bennett's injury at practice today was non-contact related, and Dave Molinari initially reported that Bennett's teammates saw him hit a "rut" in the ice and go down, though later reports claim that Kasperi Kapanen clipped Bennett's skate.
If Bennett's injury proves severe, his absence creates a negative trickle-down throughout the Penguins lineup. The second power-play unit, which had shown great puck movement and possession in the offensive zone, would showcase a distinctly different look and feel without Bennett working along the wall.
Previous Penguins castoffs like Brian Gibbons had elements of speed and a willingness to go into the corners, but lacked both the physical side and the unteachable set of hands that Bennett clearly possesses. The notion that Bennett and the Penguins would finally harbor his potential- in the final year of Bennett's entry level contract no less- seemed like a perfect win/win scenario for both player and organization.
Instead, the Penguins may have to try and replace Bennett's offensive skillset with the likes of Blake Comeau playing on his off-wing, as Craig Adams' deficiencies at this stage of career can only work in moderate doses on the 4th line.
A more intriguing scenario would involve allowing Kasperi Kapanen a chance to stay up with the big club for the first 10 games of the season and get a taste of the NHL in low-pressure situations. Again, keeping Kapanen would force someone to play on his off-wing (again, likely Comeau), but it would give Kapanen invaluable experience and help the franchise to further distance itself from the Dan Bylsma "only veterans play"reputation that permeated team criticism during the off-season.
Hopefully, Bennett's injury proves minor and he is able to contribute to the team sooner rather than later. In the event that he is forced to miss time, his latest bout with the injury bug may prove serendipitous for the Pens' futures with Kapanen.