Winger Bennett playing above AHL competition while awaiting call-up from Penguins
WILKES-BARRE — When Beau Bennett arrived in Wilkes-Barre to begin a minor league assignment last week, Baby Pens coach John Hynes said he would have to “leave no doubt that he’s a full-time National Hockey League player” before returning to the Penguins.
Bennett did that in no time.
He played Friday and Sunday for the Baby Pens, taking off Saturday for scheduled rest as he recovers from a knee injury suffered during practice Sept. 26. The Baby Pens scored eight goals in two games with Bennett in the lineup. He was on the ice for all of them and assisted on five.
“He was a difference maker. That’s what you want from Beau,” Hynes said. “That’s what he has to be at this level, and he has to translate that to the National Hockey League level.”
Bennett’s vision and creativity were far ahead of his AHL foes.
In overtime Friday, he carried a Washington Capitals prospect on his back while making a backhand pass to rookie defenseman Derrick Pouliot, who centered to Jayson Megna for the winning goal.
In the third period Sunday, he deked a Lightning goalie prospect on a two-on-none break and set up Megna for a shot into an open cage.
It’s unlikely he will have the same level of success against the best defenders in the world after his imminent recall, but some of the concepts are the same.
“Just trying to find the open man,” Bennett said. “It was positive stuff.”
The one thing Bennett still has to prove cannot be accomplished in one weekend. He has to show he can stay healthy, and he knows it.
In two years at the University of Denver and three years in the pros, Bennett has missed about 47 percent of his teams’ games because of injuries.
He said his wrist, which twice was repaired surgically, is as sound as it ever has been. He said his knee experienced only standard postgame soreness.
“Honestly, it’s easy to get frustrated,” Bennett said. “I’ve been unfortunate. The only thing I can be happy about is I’m not fragile in that I’m getting hit and getting injured or hitting and getting injured. It’s fluky things. ”
Conventional wisdom says Bennett will slot into the Penguins’ top six when he makes his return, perhaps taking over for Blake Comeau on Evgeni Malkin’s wing. Bennett, however, isn’t necessarily lobbying for that spot.
“I really enjoy playing with (Brandon) Sutter,” Bennett said. “We have really good chemistry. Positive guy. I’ve really enjoyed playing with him preseason and a little bit last year. He’s one of those guys that’s always in the right position, and I know where he’s going to be. If that’s the slot I can eventually work into, I’ll be really happy.”
It’s not that Bennett desires a lesser role. It’s that the third line is being featured more prominently under coach Mike Johnston.
“This year, Sid and Geno have been around the 16- to 18-minute mark. Last year, they were getting 21 to 22 every game,” Bennett said. “The minutes are more evenly spread throughout.”
Jonathan Bombulie is a freelance writer.