By Allan Muir
He may have horrific fashion sense away from the rink, but Beau Bennett is all kinds of flashy once he steps on the ice. Taken 20th overall in 2010 by the Penguins, he’s emerged as the franchise’s top prospect after two standout seasons with the University of Denver. Now a rookie with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton of the AHL, he was chosen to play in that league’s All-Star Game on Jan. 28 but sat out with a lower body injury.
UPDATE: Bennett was called up by the Penguins on Feb. 14 and slated to make his NHL debut in Winnipeg the following night, skating on a line with Brandon Sutter and Tyler Kennedy.
Coach’s take: “Beau’s a real pleasure to coach and he’s done a real nice job of making the transition from college to the AHL. He’s a high-compete-level, high-talent player. He has great vision and when you give him time and space, he make can make high-end plays. He has a solid assessment of the areas where he needs to get better. He’s working on making plays under pressure. He’s finding that balance between making simple, smart plays when there’s pressure and then using his creativity when he has time and space. He’s a great young talent.”
– John Hynes, assistant coach, WBS Penguins
Bennett spoke to SI.com on Jan. 24 after practice with the Baby Pens.
SI.com: You started as a roller hockey player in Southern California.
Beau Bennett: My older brother would play roller hockey at local park. It wasn’t much. There were no boards, just little bumpers. I would go and push around a puck, until I was old enough to really play when I was five. I didn’t get on the ice until I was nine, and it really wasn’t too serious until 14 or 15. You’d practice once or twice a week, have a game on Sunday. It was nice and relaxed. I still think roller hockey is my best sport.
How did starting on concrete help you once you switched to ice?
BB: Roller hockey is more of a thinking game. There’s no offside, no icing, no hitting. You use the whole sheet and you have to beat guys clean, so I think it really helped develop my hockey sense.
SI.com: Describe your game.
BB: I play creative, I like to work down low, try to develop plays out of the corner and find the open guy. I’m more of a playmaker than a shooter, but I’m trying to develop both skills.
SI.com: So your childhood hero was…Ray Ferraro?
BB: I was a Kings fan, so he was my guy. Good goal scorer, played a gritty game. Now I kind of look at guys like Pavel Datsyuk and Teddy Purcell. Purcell isn’t the flashiest guy playing on a team with Stamkos and St. Louis, but he’s a guy you can really appreciate when you watch him every game. He thinks the game at a different level, he’s always one step ahead. He’s not the fastest, but he still beats guys because he’s always doing the right thing.
SI.com: Scouts say you’ve done a nice job elevating your game from college to the AHL. That’s a tough transition for a lot of players.
BB: The biggest thing was learning the system. It’s a big change from [the University of] Denver. It’s a fast up-and-down game and you’ve got to be responsible in all three zones. And the speed and strength of the guys here was a big difference, but I got used to it after the first 10 games or so.
You were drafted at 6-1, 173 pounds and the consensus at the time was that you needed to work on your strength. How’s that going?
BB: I focused on my diet pretty good and I worked out hard over the summer to give myself the best opportunity coming into camp. It’s something that I have to keep working it. I’m still thin. I’ll probably never be the big, bulky guy. But I want to get stronger, get more stability on my legs. I committed to it [in the off-season], Monday to Saturday, 6 AM every day. It was a bit of culture shock getting up that early, but it was worth it. I focused on my legs four times a week. I want to get faster, more explosive. It’s a process. It’s going better since college, but I was so far behind I’m playing catch up now. I got up to 205 in the summer, but it’s a real difference playing at that weight, so I focused on getting down to 190-195 for the season.
Pretty early on in camp they had you skating on a line with Evgeni Malkin and James Neal. That says a lot about how you’re perceived, but it’s a lot of pressure, right?
BB: You just want to play your game. You don’t want to think too much, don’t over-analyze or that’s when you start making mistakes. You want to do the things that got you in that position and keep it simple. But it was a lot of fun. Those guys make it easy on you. I mean, it’s not as comfortable as everyday shinny with your buddies, but they talked to me and kept things loose.
I’ve heard from several people who say you made a great impression in camp and it came down to the last minute before you were cut. What did management tell you before sending you back?
BB: They said they were happy, they said I’d come a long way since Day 1. But I mean, I didn’t view it as being cut. I was happy to be invited [to camp]. I went in wanting to learn, and I accomplished that. I learned about what it takes to prepare at that level, and I want to build on that.
You earned a spot in next week’s AHL All-Star Game. That’s not a bad consolation prize.
BB: It’s a big honor. We’ve been playing well lately and there are a lot of guys on our team who could have gone, so it’s an honor. It should be a good experience. And I get to see some of my sons from Denver. Drew Shore, Matt Donovan, Jason Zucker. And Emerson Etem just got added. He’s one of my best friends. He was with me for those training sessions in the summer.
So was it the scoring touch or the hair that got you mistaken for Abby Wambach?
BB: Oh man…it’s the hair. It’s always changing, but I put up a couple pics and I heard about it. I don’t blame the guys. It’s a tough realization, but I’ll take it.