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Penguins

Penguins' Bennett takes big step forward with productive summer

| Monday, Sept. 28, 2015, 10:39 p.m.
The Penguins' Beau Bennett celebrates his goal with teammates during a preseason game against the Canadiens on Monday, Sept. 28, 2015, in Quebec City.
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The Penguins' Beau Bennett celebrates his goal with teammates during a preseason game against the Canadiens on Monday, Sept. 28, 2015, in Quebec City.

QUEBEC CITY — Beau Bennett isn't one to read or listen to much concerning his professional hockey career, but the Penguins winger couldn't help but notice this one.

“He's developed his body more like a man,” general manager Jim Rutherford said of Bennett the day before training camp opened.

It produced a chuckle when brought up 10 days later, though Bennett knew what Rutherford meant.

And he doesn't dispute it.

Still only 23 years old, Bennett believes he took a giant leap forward this summer toward gaining weight, staying healthy and playing with confidence.

“Not that I trained that much harder, it was just more detailed,” Bennett said. “The way I went about it, it wasn't just, ‘I need to get stronger.' It's that I needed to get strong in the right way and be durable throughout the season.

“With that came adding muscle, cutting down body fat and factoring in all the nutritional stuff I needed to do. It all came together.”

The biggest reason, Bennett explained, was his decision to work out with Los Angeles-based trainer Matt O'Hara, who was recommended to him by the Penguins.

What O'Hara stressed to Bennett was a lot of working out while putting his body in uncomfortable situations, such as lifting with the arm behind your torso.

Also, as Bennett explained, “a lot of one-legged stuff, where my leg would be straight so if there's something weight-bearing on it, I could build up strength that way as well.”

That allowed Bennett, who has battled knee problems for much of his NHL career, to ditch the knee braces he was wearing last season.

And while Johnston believes Bennett can still improve his work in the corners, the coach has noticed something different about Bennett.

“I've seen him enter training camp a lot more confident,” Johnston said. “He's handling the puck well.”

In two preseason games prior to Monday, Bennett had 14 shot attempts, 12 on goal. He scored the shootout-deciding goal last Monday in Columbus and provided the Penguins' only goal at Detroit.

Bennett said he has added a few pounds — he weighed in Monday at 197 — but still feels quick.

“I didn't want to feel heavy,” Bennett said. “I wanted to feel light and have a little more mass behind me. I think I accomplished that.”

Not a minute too soon, either. Do it over again, and Bennett wouldn't have waited until Year 4 of his pro hockey career to start training like this and working with O'Hara.

“My biggest regret was that I didn't meet my trainer that I have now five years ago,” Bennett said. “Just the way I feel … I could be a lot farther along.”

Bennett could add some scoring punch to the Penguins' bottom-six, perhaps as a regular pair with Nick Bonino. Or, as Johnston said, Bennett could work his way into the rotation at left wing on one of the top two lines.

It all depends on whether the “like a man” comment turns out to be more than just a good line.

“Our forward depth on this team is probably the best it's been since I've been here,” Bennett said. “Wherever I end up playing, I just want to help contribute and build some chemistry with those guys.”

Jason Mackey is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at jmackey@tribweb.com or via Twitter @Mackey_Trib.

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