The Pens have a huge hole in their top 6. Matt Cooke, Eric Tangradi and Dustin Jeffrey might be the choices but don't forget about 21 year old former first round pick Beau Bennett. Bennett is very raw, but he has also the best player on the Penguins AHL team this season.
Josh Yohe, writer from the Tribune-Review, is a good and fair mind. Connected and in tune with what’s happening as you’ll find. Early this morning Yohe tweeted:
Been waiting months to write this: Kunitz-Crosby-Dupuis Cooke-Malkin-Neal Tangradi-Sutter-Kennedy Glass-Vitale-Adams
Chris Kunitz and Pascal Dupuis on Sidney Crosby’s line is expected and should come to happen. Pairing James Neal and Evgeni Malkin, two players that combined for 90 goals last season, is a no-brainer as well.
The big thing is seeing Matt Cooke, second line center. And while Cooke set a career high in goals last season, he’s not a top six player. Unfortunately for the Pens, Cooke is #2 on their left wing depth chart with the departure of Steve Sullivan in free agency over the summer. They need someone to play, and while Cooke isn’t close to ideal, there just aren’t any options.
Or are there?
Enter Beau Bennett.
Bennett just turned 21 years old in November, he was the Pens first round pick back in 2010. This is Bennett’s first professional season, and he’s found some success- currently is leading the WB/S Penguins in points (23) and assists (17), playing in 28 of the team’s 33 games. This was supposed to be a learning, growing rookie season for Bennett, who due to injury only got to play 10 games last season in college.
But, sometimes the plan has to change.
As Wilkes-Barre reported Jonathan Bombulie said on twitter recently: “I said this on Penguins Radio today and I'll say it again here. It will be very, very tempting to call up Beau Bennett when/if lockout ends…He's the best player on this team by a lot”
Bennett brings an undeniable amount of skill to the table. He’s got excellent hands and has good enough hockey sense to jump into a strong, lockout AHL and be one of the top players in the league. What he doesn’t have is a lot of seasoning still in terms of age and experience. He’s also been injured a little this season and has been fighting through that. It could be best for his long-term development to stay in the AHL and get to play big minutes and continue to grow.
This will be the story to watch in the shortened training camp, which will be this week, maybe as soon as this Wednesday or Thursday. Will the Pens call Bennett up? Will they give him a look in that opening for Malkin or Crosby’s line? There would be a lot of pressure on a young player in such a role. And if you’re playing with 87 or 71 you know you’re going to see the top defensive and checking units in the NHL, no small task to jump straight into that.
As of right now, it has to be the biggest question on Ray Shero’s plate. Maybe another internal option like Eric Tangradi or Dustin Jeffrey will be given a chance, but both don’t seem to be complete enough offensive players to keep up in a top 6 role. Bennett has the skill that they don’t to take the step one day.
The question is, is today that day for Beau Bennett to get a chance to show what he can do in the NHL?