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Penguins' Bennett could see time on top lines

by Wes Crosby

PITTSBURGH -- Beau Bennett, entering his second NHL season, is facing the possibility of playing alongside Evgeni Malkin, a Hart Trophy winner, and James Neal, a 40-goal scorer. But the young forward is content filling any role asked of him, as long as it means he makes the team.

"Sunshine," as he is referred to in the Pittsburgh Penguins' locker room, showed flashes of offensive brilliance during his rookie season, and had three goals and 11 assists in 26 games.

Entering training camp this season, Bennett could serve a prominent role on the Penguins' top two lines. He will compete with Jussi Jokinen for the open spot next to Malkin and Neal, but after multiple stints in the American Hockey League last season, he said he is focused on making the opening-day roster.

"I think everyone who comes into training camp, you want to think you're going to be here, you're going to play," Bennett said. "I just want to make the team and then wherever coach [Dan Bylsma] wants to put me after that is fine with me."

Bennett used the offseason to put more muscle on his 6-foot-2 frame and now weighs 207 pounds after weighing around 175 when he was selected by the Penguins with the 20th pick of the 2010 NHL Draft. He said he expects this to make him a more dangerous threat at both ends of the ice.

"I feel like I grew as a player and I'm more versatile," Bennett said. "I think defensively I grew as a player. It started in Wilkes-Barre [AHL] then worked its way up to here. In college I really didn't focus too much on that part of my game and I think it's grown over the past year."

Bylsma said he thought Bennett benefited from his experience in the AHL prior to the start of last season and said he expects him to be a key contributor for the Penguins this season.

"We saw him in several different roles for our team, as high as second line last year, played on the fourth line last year. Also, on the power play, we saw him in that role at times," Bylsma said. "So he played in a lot of different areas and showed a lot of things. I think Beau is going to be a guy who really has an opportunity to step forward and make a big impact."

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