“I’ve been horizontal for most of the time,” he joked. “But when I’m not working out I’ve been trying to cook a little bit – that hasn’t gone well.”
But in all seriousness, Bennett has been hard at work rehabbing following offseason wrist surgery, which he underwent just days after finishing what was an incredibly frustrating season for him injury-wise.
Lower-body and wrist issues limited Bennett to just 21 games played in 2013-14, his second professional season. He missed 50 straight from Nov. 23 to March 27 because of his hand/wrist. The team announced Bennett would be out 8-10 weeks after undergoing surgery on Nov. 25. He then had a setback in February that added another 3-4 weeks to his recovery timetable.
Unfortunately for Bennett, it was a back-to-square-one setback, meaning he needed surgery again regardless. The doctors gave him the option of having it then or waiting until the offseason. So Bennett chose to return and play the rest of the regular season and playoffs, but was hindered by his injury.
“I was kind of rushing back to play as quick as possible,” he said. “When I did injure it, I was so sick of watching the games I just said, ‘oh, I’ll just deal with it after the season’s over.’ Progressively got a little worse and worse as the season went on.”
Bennett has learned from that experience, saying he’s taking his recovery “a lot slower” this time.
“It’s almost three months post-surgery next week Wednesday, and I’m just getting on the ice this week,” he said. “It feels a lot better.”
His most recent surgery was similar to the one he underwent last November, but with a few minor tweaks that will prove better in the long run.
“So far, it’s been a lot better,” Bennett said. “I was only in the cast for two weeks as opposed to six weeks the last time. It’s a work in progress. I got a lot of rehab in in California and came out here early to start skating and seeing where I’m at.
“(My rehab is) just a lot of strength stuff. I had my first surgery in November, and basically from November to beginning of July I didn’t do any upper body other than my right arm because I was so hindered in that regard. It takes a while to build it up, but I think with gearing towards the season, Oct. 9, you’ve got about two months left, so I think I’m in a good spot to add a little strength there.”
Bennett’s timetable following his May 22 surgery was four months, and as he said, it will be three months next week. He hopes to be ready for training camp mid-September, but certainly isn’t going to rush back before he’s ready.
“Playing it by ear right now,” he said. “Every day it’s feeling a little bit better and we’re increasing a little bit in the weight training and on-ice stuff. It’s still early and I’m glad that I’m here early enough where I can really see where I’m at.
Bennett has been dealing with wrist issues for the past three years, dating back to his time at the University of Denver. He's more than ready to get healthy and move on.
“It’s something I want to put behind me,” he said. “I’m trying to put my body in the best shape possible so I can be injury-free and play 82 games and into the playoffs without any hindrances.”
Bennett is looking forward to a fresh start physically, and with the new staff as well – although he’s already familiar with head coach Mike Johnston.
When Bennett made the transition from roller to ice hockey at age 15, he played on the same team as Johnston’s son, Adam, while Mike was an assistant coach with the Los Angeles Kings. And since the Johnston family lived right down Manhattan Beach Boulevard, the teenagers became close.
“I was really good friends with his son growing up,” Bennett said. “He lived right down the street from me when (Johnston) was coaching in LA. So the familiarity there was pretty good.”
Back then, Bennett thought of Johnston as just his buddy’s dad. That’s certainly changed now.
“We were all playing for fun at that time, and he’s coaching in the NHL and we’re just kind of in awe of the whole thing,” Bennett said. “It’s pretty cool that it all came full circle and now he’s the coach of the Pens.
“I kind of followed him, because a lot of my friends went through Portland. It’s just crazy that he went to LA, Portland, and then Pittsburgh. It’s pretty cool.”
Johnston didn’t wait long to get in touch with Bennett, now 22, after he was hired.
“He called me a couple weeks after and just asked me how I was, if I was staying out of trouble, where the good places are to live in Pittsburgh,” Bennett said. “He’s a great guy. I’ve never played under him, so it’ll be fun to finally get coached by him.”
Bennett would like to earn a permanent spot among the top-six forward group under Johnston.
“I think I could totally be in that role, for sure,” Bennett said. “It’s tough because I didn’t have a real full season last year. It’s hard to gauge where I’ll be at coming into this year. But I’m excited for the opportunity to play top-6.
“Even if you play top-9, we have (Brandon) Sutter as the third-line center and he’s an unbelievable guy to play with. Then you have (Marcel) Goc, who I played with a lot in the playoffs and we were familiar with each other. It’s kind of an embarrassment of riches down the middle and we’re pretty lucky as wingers to play with any of the guys.”
A lot of changes happened both on and off the ice with the Penguins organization this summer. And while Bennett was certainly sad to see a lot of his teammates go via trade and free agency, he’s excited about potentially having more opportunities.
“It’s so bittersweet because I lost 5-6 of my closest friends on the team just to free agency and trades,” he said. “It was very sad for a couple days there post-trade deadline and July 1, but it’s business. We’ll be friends for the long run. It’s just nice to have the opportunity to meet new guys, see how it meshes. The formula we had wasn’t working, so change is always good. You can come in, be excited to come to the rink and be excited to compete for spots. I think it’ll do us some good.”
And while there may even more changes made between now and the start of the season, Bennett likes how the team is shaping up.
“It’s a lot different than the years past. Everything was set in stone and you were playing with certain guys no matter what,” he said. “This will be more four centers and then see whatever happens on the wings, other than I think (Sidney Crosby) will be with his normal linemates once (Pascal Dupuis) is all ready to go. It’s fun to think about, that you could play with different centers on any given night.”