What a difference a year makes.
At the Penguins 2011 development camp, prospect Beau Bennett
, the Penguins’ first-round pick (20th overall) in the 2010 NHL Entry Draft, looks like a completely different player from the same camp one year ago.
First of all, he simply looks stronger. That is due to the 23 pounds of muscle that he has bulked onto his 6-foot-1 frame, bringing him to up to a solid 196 pounds.
“This is a year and a half of work that I’ve put in,” said Bennett, who recently completed his freshman season at Denver University. “I feel a lot more confident with my body. I gained a little weight in college. That’s really where my confidence is coming from. Working in the gym five days a week with (Pioneers strength) coach (Mike) Bridges has been great.”
“He’s a more mature player,” said Wilkes-Barre/Scranton head coach John Hynes, who runs the development camp. “He’s definitely stronger on the puck. … You can see that he feels more comfortable playing against bigger, stronger guys. Last year, you could see the thought process that he wanted to do certain things, but he didn’t have the strength. This year you can see that he can do physically what his mind is telling him to do.”
Second, Bennett’s on-ice play has taken huge steps forward. During the week he’s flashed the occasional brilliance and skill set that made him so attractive to the Penguins brass.
“One of the things we liked about him when we drafted him was his hockey sense, his hands and his ability to make offensive plays,” Hynes said. “I think in this camp you can see in the regular skill drills, he does a good job releasing the puck. He’s got excellent hands. He can look off a pass, do no look passes. Then when you put him in more competitive situations later in practice, he has an impact in traffic.”
Bennett, 19, is using his second Penguins development camp as an opportunity to test his skill set and hockey sense.
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“I thought it would be great to gage where I’m at this year compared to last year,” Bennett said. “It’s important to realize you’re not making the team out of this camp. You’re here to learn from the older guys and the coaches. Just take it as a learning experience and have fun with it.”
Bennett will be entering his sophomore season with Denver. He originally had contemplated making the transition to pro from college after two years at the university, although that timeline was never set in stone.
“I want to put in as much time and effort and see where I’m at after two years,” he said. “If it doesn’t work out I’ll always have Denver to go back to. It’s a great place, great fans there and a great school. I put the timeframe on myself so I’m not complacent, adding a little pressure to get in the gym and working as hard as I can.”
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The Penguins certainly aren’t rushing Bennett’s development.
“With the college kids, we have four years,” assistant to the general manager Tom Fitzgerald said. “I’d like to think and believe that when it comes to these kids after their freshman year, it becomes a year-to-year thing. What’s best for Beau's development? Would it be to come into the organization and play the 82-game schedule? Or would it be better for Beau to play 30 games and still concentrate on the things that you need to concentrate on, which is strength and conditioning, getting bigger, adding weight? Then we’ll re-visit it the next year and see where it goes.”
And as Fitzgerald has pointed out, for Bennett to develop into a NHL player he needs to mature physically.
“You see the difference in him body-wise, and you will continue to see the progression with thickness,” Fitzgerald said. “Every player has warts. His are his lack of strength, and that’s what he’s working on. That’s where the college game really benefits kids like that, because of the emphasis on the off-ice conditioning.”
“Strength,” Bennett reiterated as the area he would most like to improve. “I never want to get complacent with it. I don’t want to be satisfied with it. This year I want to work on my leg strength, get my legs stronger. Then hopefully, that correlates to getting a little faster.”
And if Bennett’s has improved that much in just one year, imagine how much one more year will help in his maturation. Author: Sam Kasan