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Bennett right at home with Pens

| Thursday, July 15, 2010

Beau Bennett had no idea what to expect three weeks ago — only that he likely was to be selected at some point in the first round of the NHL draft.

In the days that followed, Bennett was drafted by the Penguins, personally welcomed to the club by Sidney Crosby and forced to deal with a media presence he had never experienced.

By the time this week's annual developmental camp rolled around, hockey had become the easy part for the highest-drafted Californian.

"I'm more nervous talking with people and that kind of stuff," the 18-year-old said. "On the ice, all the nerves go away. I have a passion for it."

Bennett has looked perfectly comfortable during the first two days of camp at Southpointe. A shifty skater with soft hands, Bennett has shown some flashes that illustrate why the Penguins were pleased to nab him with the 20th selection.

Of course, the right winger remains a work in progress. Bennett will play this winter at the University of Denver, working hard to increase his strength. Merely observing him practice against some of the Penguins' other prospects made it clear that Bennett's body is far from NHL-ready.

"These guys are a lot stronger than me," he said.

Bennett hopes that playing college hockey will greatly augment his biggest weakness. While crafting his game at the NCAA level, Bennett will be spending plenty of time in the weight room.

"Strength is definitely what I need to work on," he said. "Going the college route is something that will help me take it to heart. I'll be in the gym four or five times a week."

Bennett's story is interesting because he's from California, which has never been confused with a hockey hotbed. Ultimately, though, the scouting report on him is similar to that of most talented high school wingers. Other than getting bigger, Bennett needs to improve his defensive play to someday make an impact with the Penguins.

"(Denver) lost a lot of good players last year," he said. "I just want to fit into a top-six role, get more defensive play in my game and just get better."

Bennett recently played in the British Columbia Hockey League. His travels in hockey have twice brought him to Pittsburgh, and he made his intentions clear that he'd like this to be his residence at some point.

"I do like the area," he said. "It's nice to see first-hand."

Wilkes-Barre/Scranton coach Todd Reirden, who is running the camp, said he is excited to begin molding the talented winger. The system being introduced to Bennett is likely the same he will encounter on a line with Crosby or Evgeni Malkin in a few years.

"I've never seen guys like Beau Bennett play," Reirden said. "The drills we do here are the same as in Wilkes-Barre and the same as in Pittsburgh. It's a great introduction."

Bennett realizes he likely won't receive his official introduction to the NHL for a few years, but he wants to make a good first impression.

"I'll be a little rusty," he said. "But hopefully, by the end of the week, I'll be in full form."

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