Beau Bennett, center, celebrates with Kris Letang and Evgeni Malkin after scoring the first goal of the 2013 postseason against the Islanders May 1.
By Jenn Menendez Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Penguins forward Beau Bennett will spend his offseason working out in the California sunshine, strengthening his legs for speed and preparing his body for an 82-game NHL season.
His rookie year behind him, Bennett will be expected to emerge as a top-six forward next season.
When the opportunity arrives, he wants to be ready to keep up with Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin.
"I want to play at the speed those top two centers play at, so I'm not left in the dust when they're doing stuff with the puck," Bennett said Sunday afternoon, as players cleaned out their lockers at Consol Energy Center. "It's important to get my legs a little stronger and increase my speed."
Coach Dan Bylsma suggested that Bennett and Simon Despres -- the team's first-round draft picks in 2010 and 2009 -- will forge more significant roles, with Bennett ascending to a top-six forward and Despres to a top-four defenseman.
"[Bennett is] going to certainly, I think, be a guy that would look to be in the top-six forwards next year in our group," Bylsma said. "I think Beau Bennett did a lot of great things this year in how he played and what he brought to the team."
Bylsma cited Bennett's all-around play, defensive ability and a physical presence on the forecheck.
"His puck-protection skills, being able to play against the bigger guys, he brought that skill to our team," Bylsma said.
As for Despres, the coach said: "Simon Despres, I think, is a top-four defenseman. The consistency which he brought is where his growth and development [are] as a player. I think you'll see him being that type of player for our team."
Both players, played sparingly during the team's three-round postseason run, but have youth on their side and the prospect of many springs of hockey.
Still, Bennett said he relished the opportunity to jump into the lineup for Game's 3 and 4 of the Eastern Conference final round in Boston.
"I think [the coach] was just looking for a little change," Bennett said. "We struggled in Game 2. Not anyone's fault in particular. I think he was just looking to shake things up and I got in there for Game 3. I felt like I played a pretty solid game; [the Bruins] ended up getting a bounce to win it in the end. I felt good in Game 4 as well. It wasn't meant to be."
Bennett played in six postseason games, scoring one goal in the New York Islanders series and registering 11 shots in the playoffs.
Despres, who played three games in the Islanders series, said he picked up several things from his more experienced teammates in the later rounds.
"I got to learn a lot from watching up there. Paul Martin, Brooks Orpik, [Kris] Letang, [I] try to model my game after these guys," Despres said. "Just the way they played, they always seemed to be in control. They pick and choose their spots to make plays."
Despres said he will return to Montreal for the summer, but not before getting his wisdom teeth removed in Pittsburgh.