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University of Denver Head Coach Gwozdecky Envisions Great Things From Bennett

by Mike Prisuta / Pittsburgh Penguins
Freshman-to-be Beau Bennett’s career at the University of Denver University has yet to begin but Pioneers head coach George Gwozdecky can already envision when it’s going to end.

University of Denver head coach George Gwozdecky expects Penguins first-round pick Beau Bennett to stay in college for two years before turning pro. Credit - Getty Images
“I would project Beau is not going to be with us for four years,” Gwozdecky said. “Chances are it will be two years.

“If he continues to develop the way he has it will be two years.”

The Penguins made Bennett, 18, the 20th-overall selection at the NHL Entry Draft.

Such a timeline would place Bennett on the fast track to the professional ranks and the Penguins, but Gwozdecky has plenty of recent firsthand experience with such progressions.

Center Paul Stastny (44th overall, 2005) spent two years at DU prior to joining the Colorado Avalanche.

Center Tyler Bozak (undrafted) spent two years at DU before playing last season in the AHL and with the Toronto Maple Leafs (eight goals and 27 points in 37 NHL games).

Center Joe Colborne (16th overall, 2008) played the last two seasons at DU before signing with Boston on March 31 (he appeared in six games for AHL Providence).

Bennett, a 6-foot-1, 173-pound winger from Gardena, Calif., and the British Columbia Hockey League, lacks physical maturity and strength but not game.

“He’s like a lot of great players in that he has great on-ice vision, he’s dynamic with the puck and he’s extremely creative,” Gwozdecky said. “Right now he’s probably a little more of a playmaker than he is a finisher. He probably gets more excitement out of making plays than finishing them.

“This year he’s started to realize it’s fun to finish, as well. He’s learning and discovering he has great ability to finish.”

Bennett led the BCHL in scoring with 41 goals and 79 assists for 120 points, the most in the BCHL since Bozak had 128 in 2006-07.

“The BCHL is a pretty good league and he led the league in scoring as a rookie,” Gwozdecky said. “It took Bozak three years to lead that league in scoring.”

Playing college hockey, which emphasizes off-ice strength training and conditioning and plays a reduced schedule relative to the junior ranks, should allow Bennett the opportunity to add the bulk he needs.

It did Bozak.

“He wasn’t drafted because he wasn’t strong enough his first two years in the BCHL to fight through traffic,” Gwozdecky said. “Once he matured his true greatness came out. Bo has probably developed a little quicker physically.

“He told me he’s 185. That might be a guy trying to impress his coach, but he’s certainly grown and put on some muscle since early January. He was a pretty thin rail at that time. He certainly has room to grow. He knows that and he’s getting after it.”

Colborne, presently listed at 6-5, 210, followed a similar path prior to turning pro.

“Part of it was to be able to strength train and condition,” Gwozdecky said. “He knew he’d be able to do that at the college level rather than playing every second night in junior. He put on 25 to 30 pounds with us before he signed with Boston.

“The theory in the NHL (regarding such players) seems to be, ‘Let them play a couple years in college and get them bigger and stronger, and then let’s get them in the organization and get them going.’”

Once Bennett gets going his game will likely differ from that of Stastny’s, but might prove every bit as valued.

“Stastny is by far a pass-first player,” Gwozdecky said. “When he gets the puck it’s ‘who can I distribute it to?’ Beau is a little more multi-dimensional. He’ll look to shoot as well as pass and he usually makes the right decision.

“He’ll be a top-six forward, no question. Absolutely, he will be a point producer, a go-to guy, a power-play guy. He’ll be one of the blocks that a team builds around.”

No wonder Gwozdecky, a two-time national champion as the head coach at Denver, is eager to begin a coach-player relationship with Bennett that is perhaps destined to be brief.

“He’s laid back to a certain point but he’s a pretty level-headed kid,” Gwozdecky said. “He certainly has that charm and that twinkle in his eye. He has great energy and he always has a smile on his face.

“Those are things that make people want to be around him.”

Mike Prisuta is the sports director of WDVE-FM in Pittsburgh and the sports anchor for “Jim, Randy & the DVE Morning Show.”
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