When I was 21, all I cared about was getting more than three hours of sleep a night and making sure I waited until the last minute to write long-form essays for my Non-Fiction of Place class.
Probably a good indication why I never became a professional athlete.
To be a successful young athlete, a certain level of maturity is required like a strict diet and Beau Bennett has demonstrated that in spades. There's a poise in his game that usually comes in time, something Bennett hasn't had much of in his short NHL career.
On Wednesday night, we watched as Evgeni Malkin lead Bennett with a pass into the offensive zone. The power play was coming to an end, but Bennett collected the puck with a burst of speed and edged his way around Andrew MacDonald. Head up, Bennett zeroed in on the small gap between Evgeni Nabokov's left shoulder and the crossbar. The puck followed his line of vision with a PING that could be heard down Fifth Avenue.
As Consol Energy Center erupted, Nabokov remained frozen in place like the rookie Bennett looked nothing like in that moment.
It didn't matter that this was Bennett's first shot of his first shift. A cool factoid we all retweeted on our timelines, sure, but this play would've been equally impressive if it happened in the waning minutes of the third period to make the score 6-0. What mattered was Bennett was in the zone each time he took the ice. To think none of this could have never happened had Bennett been scratched for, say, Tyler Kennedy. It was an option until Wednesday morning.
Not only do I think benching Bennett for one-dimensional players for the sake of experience is ludicrous from a developmental standpoint, but why not let the Pens benefit from his play? Maybe this game was a fluke and Bennett was working on pure adrenaline that can ease up as the playoff feel becomes less surreal. Maybe he's just that good. Regardless, let the kid play.
And he very well could be simply by default, unfortunately.
In the second period, James Neal suffered what looked like a lower body injury (and if you were to ask my unofficial, unprofessional opinion, I'd say it looked like a high ankle injury) seconds before Kris Letang scored the third goal of the game. His last recorded shift was with 16:17 remaining in the second period. Not long after, Bennett found a new line.
<blockquote class="twitter-tweet"><p>Bennett skating in Neal's spot with Malkin and Kunitz. 12:05 in 2nd. 4-0 game -SK</p>— Pens Inside Scoop (@PensInsideScoop) <a href="https://twitter.com/PensInsideScoop/status/329760495039025152">May 2, 2013</a></blockquote><script async src="//platform.twitter.com/widgets.js" charset="utf-8"></script>
Bennett earned that spot, was my initial thought.
The Pens haven't provided information on Neal's condition so we're left with speculation. Here's my two cents: If (God forbid) Neal is injured, keep Bennett on Malkin's line.
Playing with Malkin is a tall task, especially for a newer player. It requires tremendous speed and some mind-reading skills. However, Bennett has been able to meet expectations thrown his way and I don't see why we wouldn't see that same effort in this circumstance.
In addition to being a lethal sniper, Malkin can find anyone anywhere on the ice and get the puck on his stick. Bennett is a creative player with quick hands who can keep pace with Malkin once he understands his telepathic ways. Chris Kunitz, with no disregard for his body, finds a way to create space. I also think having him on Malkin's line adds a surprise element since teams probably haven't found a game plan to neutralize his ways. Not to mention every opposing player on the ice has (or should have) one eye on Malkin when he takes his shifts. Bennett's opportunities are there for the taking.
The vision is there, and especially after last night, the confidence is there and continuously growing.
Let's see what can make of them.
Note: It looks like Kunitz has rejoined the original unstoppable line with Sidney Crosby and Pascal Dupuis at practice and Jarome Iginla is taking his place on the second line. Is that a sniper line, or what?