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30 in 15: Bennett could add to Penguins' depth

by Corey Masisak continues its preview of the 2013-14 season, which will include in-depth looks at all 30 teams throughout September.

If there was a list of the most enviable positions that were open for competition during this training camp, the place on the wing next to James Neal and Evgeni Malkin for the Pittsburgh Penguins had to be at or near the top of the list.

With apologies to the opening at center in Chicago between Patrick Sharp and Patrick Kane and the spot next to Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry in Anaheim, the chance to play with Malkin and Neal could represent a career-defining opportunity for either Jussi Jokinen or Beau Bennett.

Bennett was a slight favorite entering camp. Jokinen has been one of the Penguins' top performers during the preseason with a team-high four goals in only three games.

Even if Jokinen earns the job to start the season, Bennett could see time there eventually. He's also going to be counted on to provide some depth scoring beyond the team's stars.

"We have a few other possibilities, but Beau is a guy who I really took to as a player that could have an extremely good year," Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said. "He's got high hockey IQ, high hockey sense on the offensive side of the puck. He can really make plays."

Bennett was a first-round pick (No. 20) by the Penguins in the 2010 NHL Draft, and had a solid freshman season at the University of Denver. His sophomore campaign was short-circuited by injury, but he signed with the Penguins instead of returning for his junior year.

He began 2012-13 in the American Hockey League but ended up playing 26 games for the Penguins as a rookie and finished with three goals and 14 points. Bennett's skill was evident, and his passing ability could mesh well with a shooter like Neal and Malkin, who also posted huge goal totals.

"I think the thing with Beau was the couple of years he had at Denver he fought some injuries there. It was probably good timing for him, because no one really anticipated [the lockout]. You thought there was a chance for a lockout because there was no CBA in place, but he really took that opportunity to go to Wilkes-Barre and play against real quality competition," Penguins general manager Ray Shero said. "What we saw down there was just that he's got incredible hockey sense. He's a very, very smart player, and there's a great sense in and around the puck. He's strong on the puck and just the vision to make the plays."


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