Rookie Bennett's role with Penguins in flux
Beau Bennett is sticking around.
That does not mean he is staying put.
“He certainly could add skill to a third-line position,” coach Dan Bylsma said Wednesday. “He could add skill to a fourth-line position depending how you go forward into the playoffs.”
Those words do not read like a vote of confidence for Bennett, a 21-year-old rookie.
However, Bylsma offered those words four days after acknowledging that Bennett would remain with the Penguins the remainder of this season.
Saturday morning provided the first indication Bennett had won the confidence of the coaching staff. Bylsma said then that Bennett could play with either center Evgeni Malkin on the second line or center Brandon Sutter on the third line.
General managers recently have been informed Bennett is not available on the trade market — also a sign he has won over Penguins management.
Ray Shero spent Wednesday at the NHL's annual general managers meetings, and no trades were made.
However, the trade deadline is two weeks away, and Shero is targeting to upgrade several aspects of the Penguins despite their 10-game winning streak.
A top-four defenseman, preferably a partner for Kris Letang, is a priority. A notch below on the wish list is a top-six winger. The Penguins also would benefit from an infusion of skill — and productivity — on their third and fourth lines, Shero has concluded.
Bennett could fill that role if Shero is able to bolster the top six.
That development also would allow Shero to focus on adding another bottom-six forward with acumen to contribute on a penalty kill, which, though showing signs of improvement — two goals allowed on the last 17 changes — ranked 20th as of Wednesday.
The 20th overall pick in 2010 and coming off two injury-shortened collegiate seasons, his reputable playmaking has been noted less by Bylsma than Bennett's surprising success winning puck battles and his attention to defensive assignments.
“The way he's played — he's added some offense to our lineup, added some playmaking ability, added that skill,” Bylsma said, “but he's also been very good on the other side of the puck as well, very good defensively and managing the puck.”
Managing weight is a focus of Bennett's during the grind of the truncated schedule. He played in 35 games with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton of the AHL before joining the Penguins, and a bout with influenza melted 10 to 15 pounds from his 6-foot-2 frame.
Bennett weighs 185 pounds, roughly 10 less than his ideal. His diet may consist of too many Subway sandwiches, but Bennett said he does not anticipate adding weight the rest of this season.
Bylsma said Bennett could add right-wing responsibilities even though Bennett appeared ticketed to work the opposite side on a line with Malkin and right winger James Neal.
Right wing is Bennett's natural position. He played the right side in all but five AHL games. He is a right-handed shot.
On the left wing, Bennett said he loses strength on faceoffs, and making plays exiting the defensive zone is more difficult because he is forced to use his backhand.
He may have to learn to forget all of that pending moves by Shero. He can count on being part of the Penguins' playoff push if Bylsma is to be believed.
“He's been a good, responsible winger,” Bylsma said. “He's not a young kid who you have to overlook some liabilities on the ice in terms of defense.”