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Penguins' Bylsma gives Bennett vote of confidence

| Tuesday, March 5, 2013, 11:46 p.m.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Penguins forward Beau Bennett plays against the Lightning in February 2013 at Consol Energy Center.

The Penguins believe left wing Beau Bennett will play a big role in their future.

Starting Thursday, they will give him a chance to thrive in the present.

The precocious Bennett hardly has looked out of place in the NHL through eight games, and the Penguins have decided to play him on the second line with Evgeni Malkin and James Neal against the Flyers.

“That's the line he's going to play with,” coach Dan Bylsma said. “All three periods.”

Bylsma acknowledged situational strategies occasionally could dictate that another center or left wing Matt Cooke skate on that line, but Bennett is going to receive an extended look.

Such a scenario seemed unlikely Monday when Bennett was assigned to Wilkes-Barre/Scranton. However, that move merely was procedural because a roster spot needed to be opened for Malkin's return.

When left wing Zach Boychuk was claimed off waivers by Nashville on Tuesday morning, Bennett was recalled, which was always the plan.

“It was a pretty crazy 24 hours,” Bennett said. “I'm just happy to be here.”

Bennett, who has recorded three points in his past four games, does not shy away from the opportunity of playing a top-six role. A skilled player who the Penguins selected in the first round of the 2010 NHL Entry Draft, Bennett said he is becoming more comfortable each game and would revel in the opportunity of playing with two of the Penguins' stars.

“I've skated with those guys a couple of times before,” Bennett said. “The more we practice, the more chemistry we'll build. Those guys are so good with the puck, I just try to find open space and get out of their way.”

Some of his teammates roll their eyes at Bennett's modesty.

His skill level, they believe, makes Bennett worthy of sharing the ice with Malkin and Neal.

“I've been pleasantly surprised with him,” defenseman Matt Niskanen said. “I mean, you see him in street clothes and you say, ‘Who is this kid?' But then you see him play and you're so impressed. He just thinks the game so well. He's a really smart player and makes so many good plays with the puck. I think we've all been very impressed with him. For a rookie, he's been so good.”

The defensemen who face Bennett in practice said they believe he could be in line for a bigger role.

He primarily has skated on the third line with Brandon Sutter and Tyler Kennedy.

“The skill jumps out at you,” defenseman Mark Eaton said. “I saw that right away. The more comfortable he gets, the better he'll get.”

Bennett's skill never has been questioned, nor has his presence in the locker room.

The Penguins' roster is filled with a galaxy of stars, and though Bennett still is learning and respects his elders, he immediately blended with the veterans.

“What a great kid,” Eaton said.

Niskanen said Bennett “fit in immediately” in the locker room.

Now, he'll try to fit in on Malkin's line.

“It'll be fun,” Bennett said. “I don't put too much pressure on myself. I just want to make plays and get those guys the puck.”

Josh Yohe is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at jyohe@tribweb.com or via Twitter @JoshYohe_Trib.

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