Beau Bennett was drafted to the Pittsburgh Penguins by Ray Shero in the first round of the 2010 entry draft with the 20th overall pick. At the time, he was lauded as the team’s best forward prospect, someone with a future along side Malkin or Crosby. This summer, 2015, Bennett signed a one year extension with the Penguins that is his last hope. The deal is worth $800,000 and is less than what the team will pay Rookie Derrick Pouliot and youngster Olli Matta. Oh, how things have changed.
But Beau hasn’t changed, at least, not if you know what to look for. No, this fall from grace has little to do with how the young right wing plays and much more to do with how much he plays. Bennett, a Southern California native, had grown up playing roller hockey and had stellar vision. He went on to play parts of two college seasons at Denver. In these two seasons, he missed time for a handful of ailments, but most famously a wrist injury. This injury confined him to just ten games in 2011-2012. It now seems these would be precursors to his time with the Penguins.
As the highest-drafted born and trained California player, the forward faced high expectations early on. The words “future top 6 winger” were frequently used and hung heavily above his head. During the lockout, Bennett suited up for the AHL’s Wilkes-Barre/Scranton team for 39 games where he tallied 28 points. Once the NHL season began, the question was “when” regarding Bennett. When would the highly skilled winger join the big club? The answer came in February, as Bennett made his debut on February 15th. He impressed coaches so much he became a part of the team’s push to the Eastern Conference Final, where they lost to the Boston Bruins.
Then, the injuries came in hard. Sure, Bennett had already missed time in college with injuries, but November 22, 2013, is where the story of Beau Bennett the glass man began. He broke his wrist again and missed a huge chunk of the 2013-2014 NHL season. When he returned, his shot’s power was severely weakened and he only tallied 7 points (3 goals and 4 assists) in 21 games.
This past season, 2014-2015, showed Bennett missing less time but scoring at a snail’s pace. His measly 12 points in 49 games led Rutherford to the admission that some time in the AHL could have helped Bennett more than the tough going he faced in the NHL. But don’t worry too much. Bennett, despite limited viewings and poor line mates is actually a pretty good hockey player.
His HERO chart above (thanks to ownthepuck.blogspot.ca) shows that he produces assists like a top-6 winger and his Corsi against, shot suppression per 60 minutes of ice time, is that of a first line player. Bennett has those top-6 skills; we weren’t wrong in thinking he did.
His Corsi for percentage, illustrated above from war-on-ice.com, in the 2014-2015 season was a solid 54.8%. His zone starts for that same season were a -2.5% meaning he started more of his shifts in the defensive zone. Together these show he played more of a defensive role, which is to be expected when he played with Brandon Sutter, and he excelled at it.
For comparison? In 2012-2013, his most prolific scoring season in the NHL, his zone starts were a 20.4% illustrating he played much more of his shifts starting in the offensive zone, therefore making scoring easier since the puck is already in the right zone. His PDO in that season was also over 100% showing he got lucky more that season than he has in the years since.
Luck, it seems, is all that’s left to be a difference maker for Bennett. He has the tools and when he puts them together he can be a top-6 or 9 player, but now he just needs to get a little lucky and stay healthy long enough to make a difference. Whether that’s with the Penguins or another team remains to be seen.