The rise of Beau Bennett

Jared Wickerham

According to advanced stats, metrics and just the plain old eye it's pretty clear that Beau Bennett deserves more ice-time next season. Now the fun part- figuring out where this ever-improving, young offensive player can help the Pens the best in 2013-14.

Not much to talk about this time of year, but this article on Hockey Prospectus caught our eye talking about forwards when it came to usage versus scoring. The piece is worth a link, but here’s a focus for us:

You notice a lot of young players in this list where their coach may have been hesitant to increase responsibly. Montreal’s Alex Galchenyuk seems like a great example as an 18 year old who was 92nd in league GVT and put up a lot of points at even-strength given his limited usage. Again forwards have defensive responsibility so that could have played into the low ice time for a lot of these youngsters, but it’s also possible some top young talents like Galchenyuk, Mika Zibanejad, Beau Bennett and Sven Baertschi could see a notable rise in their counting numbers soon.

Beau Bennett’s year impressed this metric, as well as Penguin fans with his play in 2013. With the departure of several forwards, Bennett is almost assuredly going to be a full-time NHL player.

Now the question becomes- will he get those extra minutes? Pittsburgh is notoriously slow for breaking in young players and often will favor steady play and positioning over young talent that could be prone to mistakes. Coach Dan Bylsma said that Bennett may play “top six minutes”, but he also said that Simon Despres was going to play top four minutes shortly before the Pens signed Rob Scuderi. Moral of the story? Don’t put too much stock in coach speak, especially in the summer.

Bylsma will play the best fit and the player for the role, and Bennett should have an excellent chance to see more minutes of ice-time. He finished his rookie professional season with impressive results for a player that wasn’t relied on heavily. But he’ll have the chance to continue growing into becoming a solid NHL player.

Bennett should get a chance for an audition with Evgeni Malkin and James Neal on the “second” line, and Bennett could finally be the answer to the missing left wing. Even in a shortened season the Pens auditioned no less than 6 wingers here (Eric Tangradi, Zach Boychuk, Matt Cooke, Tanner Glass, Brenden Morrow, Jarome Iginla) and none fit in or looked comfortable with the former MVP in Malkin and 40-goal scorer in Neal.

In brief chances, Bennett however did look good. Bennett has shown a knack for thinking the game well, especially for a young player with limited professional experience. Going through the neutral zone, Bennett would be in the right position to receive passes or defend open space if a linemate got trapped in deep. Bennett also has the skill in his hands to make plays in tight spaces in the offensive zone and unlike some other players, didn’t get overwhelmed and try to force pucks to #71 all shift long. (Which to be fair is probably pretty pressured filled, especially considering Malkin is about always going want the puck and expect a linemate to be able and serve it up).

Will Bennett stick full time in top 6 minutes? If not, it won’t be the worst thing in the world- while his skill set isn’t suited for a lower line, getting more shifts and time under his belt ought to help Bennett’s improvement as a player and possibly teach him more defensive responsibility and help round out his skillset.

No matter what way you look at it, the Penguins need skill players and they especially need ones on cheap entry-level contract. Beau Bennett fits perfectly and he’s showed in 2013 that he’s capable of playing even more. Now it’s just a matter of seeing how much extra ice he can earn and what he can do with it.

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