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Bennett Stands Out Against Top Competition At USA Hockey Evaluation Camp

by Jason Seidling / Pittsburgh Penguins
Penguins’ 2010 first-round draft pick Beau Bennett turned plenty of heads last week thanks to a great showing at USA Hockey’s National Junior Evaluation Camp in Lake Placid, N.Y.

Penguins' 2010 first-round draft pick Beau Bennett led Team USA with six assists at Evaluation Camp last week. Credit - Getty Images
Bennett, whom the Penguins selected with the 20th overall selection in June, finished the four-game exhibition series between the Americans, Sweden and Finland with a team-leading six assists in four games. He notched two assists on Saturday in the United States’ 8-3 victory over the Finns, the third time in four contests Bennett posted two helpers in a single game.

Penguins assistant to the general manager Tom Fitzgerald was in Lake Placid for the beginning of Evaluation camp and he came away impressed with how Bennett stacked up against the high level of competition.

“Beau showed me really good hockey sense and better speed than I thought – especially in flight once he gets going,” Fitzgerald said. “His ability to handle the puck and make plays – he just knew what he was doing with the puck before he got it – that tells you how precious his hockey IQ is. He went into the Sweden-Finland portion of the tournament and picked up right where he left off in the blue-white (scrimmage) games.”

USA Hockey’s Junior Evaluation Camp featured 42 U.S.-born players – including two other recent Penguins’ draft picks, defenseman Philip Samuelsson (2009; second round) and forward Bryan Rust (2010; third round) – auditioning for a spot on the U.S. National Junior Team that will take part in the 2011 International Ice Hockey Federation World Junior Championship, Dec. 26, 2010-Jan. 5, 2011, in Buffalo, N.Y.

Samuelsson appeared two exhibition games for the Americans during the Sweden-Finland portion of camp while Rust participated in early stages of the week.

In addition, four players with ties to Pittsburgh – forward Brandon Saad (Gibsonia; one assist in two games), defensemen Patrick Wey (Mt. Lebanon; one assist in two games) and Stephen Johns (Wampum; three games played) and goaltender Michael Houser (Wexford) – also took part in the Evaluation Camp.

While Pittsburgh was certainly well represented at Lake Placid, it was Bennett, the 6-foot-1, 173-pound Gardena, California native, who stood out the most.

Playing against some of the top Under-20 talent the United States, Sweden and Finland had to offer, Bennett proved his talent level stacks up favorably with the game’s top prospects.

“It says a lot for his hockey sense that he was able to easily make that transition,” Fitzgerald said. “You have to have that to be an elite player. He was very good on the power play. Whatever wall he set up on or even along the goal line, he made plays happen. He played every power play for them, so that just tells you what he brings to the table for a team.

“He just makes players around him better. If you look at the lineup and you see Beau Bennett next to you, you have a chance to become a better player yourself. We as an organization are really excited to see him grow.”

Team USA moved Bennett around quite a bit during Evaluation Camp as he saw shifts with fellow 2010 early-round draft picks Emerson Etem, Jason Zucker and Justin Faulk among many others. Despite Bennett’s linemates changing often, his production never did. That has Fitzgerald expecting Bennett to be one of the Americans’ top offensive threats in Buffalo.

“I would like to think so,” said Fitzgerald, who kept in touch with Bennett via text message throughout the camp. “I think he made an impression and an impact on the staff there last week. Now he has to go to Denver (University) and continue to grow as a player so he can be named to the U.S. team when they make the announcement.”

Defenseman Philip Samuelsson provided steady play along the Team USA blueline during Evaluation Camp exhibition contests. Credit - Getty Images
Based upon his strong performance Bennett figures to be a good bet to make the World Junior roster later this year, but Samuelsson and Rust also hope to hear good news when the team is announced.

Fitzgerald likes the chances for both, especially if the Americans choose players based upon the roles each can provide.

“Samuelsson started off a little slower than the other two, but then his game really picked up,” Fitzgerald said. “He is a simple, puck-moving defenseman with a real good stick. Like any player, you can get in trouble when you try to do too much. Less is more, really. Games 1 and 2 of the blue-white weren’t his best games, but Game 3 he played much better. His game was very simple but very effective against Sweden and Finland. That’s exactly what he is all about.

“The door isn’t shut on Rust by any means. He has to go to Notre Dame and impress. He is a guy who has pretty good offensive instincts but his hockey sense overall is pretty good. He knows how to play without the puck.

“He is probably your typical third-line guy who you know what he is going to do. He is going to finish his checks every time. He’ll lay down and block pucks. He is a real good character player. We really haven’t drafted a player like this in a few years. He is the type of player where come the end of November is playing hard – every team needs a kid like that. He can be one of those players they look down and say ‘this is a piece we need.’”

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