Now healthy, Penguins' Bennett eyes bigger role
Beau Bennett went home to California this offseason, expecting to get away from the Penguins.
Things didn't quite work out that way. One of Bennett's neighbors — Mike Johnston — became his coach.
“I was really good friends with his son (Adam) growing up,” Bennett said Wednesday after volunteering for a youth camp at Robert Morris Island Sports Center. “He lived right down the street from me when he was (an associate coach for the Los Angeles Kings). I've known him for five or six years.
“We were all playing for fun at that point, and he was coaching in the NHL. We were in awe of the whole thing. It's pretty cool that it came full circle, and now he's coaching the Penguins.”
Training camp is still about a month away, but Bennett is healthy and on the ice — besides coaching, he took part in drills and a scrimmage — represents an important development for the Penguins.
Will he be able to stay healthy? Can he challenge for, and hold down, a bigger role?
Bennett underwent surgery May 22, his third serious wrist operation. Though he was given a four-month timetable for recovery, Bennett remained noncommittal on his status for the Penguins' season opener Oct. 9.
“Playing it by ear right now,” Bennett said. “Every day it's feeling a little better, and we're increasing a little bit, the weight training and on-ice stuff. It's still early, and I'm glad I'm here early enough where I can really see where I'm at.”
After missing 50 games in the middle of this past season with his second major wrist surgery, Bennett said he was in a cast for six weeks. This time, it was only two.
“From November through the beginning of July, I didn't do any upper-body (workouts) other than my right arm because I was so hindered,” Bennett said. “It takes awhile to build it up. Gearing toward the season, Oct. 9, you have two months left, I think I'm in a good spot to add some strength.”
Bennett admitted he rushed himself back in the middle of the season, unwilling to miss any more games.
“It progressively got a little worse as the season went on,” Bennett said. “This time, I'm taking it a lot slower. It will be three months post-surgery next Wednesday, and I'm just getting on the ice this week. It feels a lot better.”
Although he has only six goals and 21 points in 47 career games, the skilled Bennett has an opportunity to lock down a top-six role with the departure of wingers James Neal and Jussi Jokinen.
Sure, Patric Hornqvist, acquired along with Nick Spaling in the Neal trade, should get one spot.
And after impressing at development camp, rookie Kasperi Kapanen could present a challenge.
Whatever the case, Bennett isn't stressing.
“You want that competition,” Bennett said. “You want a young kid to come in and push you.”
No matter who makes the top six, Bennett said there's really no loser with the Penguins' current makeup. Franchise centers Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin are followed on the depth chart by Brandon Sutter and Marcel Goc, both coming off strong playoff performances.
“It's kind of an embarrassment of riches down the middle,” Bennett said. “As wingers, we're lucky to play with any of those guys.”
Bennett said Johnston called him a week or two after he was hired, making sure he was “staying out of trouble.” According to Bennett, Johnston asked for suggestions on where to live.
Besides work out which he insists he's done a lot, Bennett said he's been keeping busy with his newest hobby: cooking.
“That hasn't gone well,” Bennett said.
He hopes that training camp will bring a different result.
“I think I could totally be in (a top-six) 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 for top six.”