The Penguins are just as concerned with the character of their players as they are with their on-ice skills.
And it’s guys like Ben Street who are a perfect mix of the two.
“He’s a smart player,” Wilkes-Barre/Scranton head coach John Hynes said of Street. “He’s smart and he’s competitive. Along with his hockey sense, he’s got good hands and he’s versatile.
“He’s also a guy that’s got high character and work ethic. He’s the type of guy that we want to have in our locker room and in our organization, and he’s got a good work ethic.”
That work ethic has helped Street get to the professional ranks, as he’s had to earn everything he’s been given.
Street just finished his first professional season, which he split between Wilkes-Barre/Scranton of the American Hockey League (AHL) and Wheeling of the ECHL, after playing five seasons for the University of Wisconsin from 2005-10 (he took a medical redshirt in 2008-09 after suffering a knee injury four games into the season).
Street served as Badgers team captain in 2008-09 and 2009-10, winning an NCAA National Championship as a freshman and making it to the National Championship Game in 2010 (where Wisconsin fell to a Boston College squad that had Penguins prospects Carl Sneep
, Brian Gibbons
and Philip Samuelsson
on the roster).
But despite his successes at the collegiate level, the 5-foot-11, 185-pound undrafted forward knew he didn’t want his career to end there. So he played each and every game game like NHL teams were watching.
“(My advisor) just said, keep playing, keep playing,” Street said. “He never really told me what teams were interested. He said to play as if every team is in the building every night.”
Hynes actually served as a Badgers assistant coach for the 2002-03 season, so that connection helped Street get his first professional contract after graduating in 2010. But Street still felt he had a lot to prove despite having his status with the organization secured by paper and ink.
“Last year it was basically a tryout, almost,” he said. “It was a contract, but I had a lot to prove. I kind of probably fell off the radar a little bit when I got hurt in my actual senior year and had one year to battle back. It was just a continuing process for me. I tried to make the most of it and raised myself up a level each year.”
To his disappointment, he was sent to Wheeling to start last season. It wasn’t the ideal situation for Street, but he made the most of it.
“That team was incredible at the start,” he said. “You look at the roster and they’re all veteran guys. I have to wait. I just tried to make the most of my time in Wheeling, learn as much as I could. I really enjoyed playing for coach (Stan) Druila, he taught me a lot.”
Street’s time in Wheeling re-invigorated him offensively, as he scored 24 goals and 51 points in the first 38 games of the season.
His outstanding play paired with his tireless work ethic earned him a call-up to WBS in the second half of the season after a majority of their top forwards went up to Pittsburgh when the parent club was beset with injuries.
And Street filled in admirably for WBS, scoring 12 goals and 23 points in 36 games. To top it off, Street was named the ECHL Rookie of the Year despite spending just half of the season with the Nailers.
“He’s earned everything that he’s got,” Hynes said. “We actually called him up over a couple of NHL-contracted guys, so you like that he worked his way to where he wanted to. He produced and he earned his opportunity.”
But Hynes added that work ethic alone didn’t get Street to where he is now, saying, “You’ve got to have the talent too.”
Street has been performing admirably during the 2011 rookie tournament in Oshawa, Ontario, which began on Sep. 9 and concludes Tuesday when the Penguins prospects take on the Chicago Blackhawks prospects at 2 p.m.
He’s hoping that he’s proven to the Penguins staff members in attendance that he’s capable of playing in every hockey player’s dream destination – the National Hockey League.
“I just want to prove that I’m here to stay,” Street said. “Obviously with an AHL contract, there’s room to grow there. My goal is to earn an NHL contract.”
If he keeps up what he’s doing, he might just earn that too.