Penguins draft right winger Bennett in first round

California native due to play at University of Denver next season


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LOS ANGELES -- There was someone at the Penguins' table on the floor of the Staples Center Friday night who had an inkling what Beau Bennett was feeling.

"A lot of nerves," Penguins center and captain Sidney Crosby said.

"It's nerve-racking. Everybody works so hard to get here."

Crosby joined the team brass for the first round of the NHL draft after a stop in Las Vegas for the NHL awards and before heading to Edmonton for a large Canadian Olympic celebration.

For Crosby, it was a pleasant enough way to spend an evening -- "It's fun. It brings back some memories," said the first overall pick of the 2005 draft -- but for Bennett it was a night well worthy of a mental bookmark.

The right winger was the Penguins' 2010 first-round pick, 20th overall.

After donning a Penguins jersey on stage with general manager Ray Shero and his staff, Bennett met Crosby.

"That was awesome. It was unreal," Bennett said. "You watch this guy win a gold medal for Canada [at the 2010 Olympics] and then you meet him and are going to the same organization as him -- I just wish for the opportunity to play with him someday."

Bennett, 6 feet 1 and 175 pounds, is not likely to get that chance right away. He is headed to the University of Denver in the fall after amassing 41 goals and a league-best 120 points in 56 games last season for Penticton of the junior British Columbia Hockey League.

Flashing a big smile, Bennett said during pre-draft interviews with the Penguins he got a feel for what the 2009 Stanley Cup champions saw in him.

"They like my offense," said Bennett, who is on the older side of this draft class because he will turn 19 in November.

"I bring some creativity to the game, and I can create off the right side or the left side. I need to work on some things as well -- on my defensive play and my strength. I think at [Denver], I'll get better on both aspects."

The draft continues today with rounds two through seven. The Penguins do not have a second-round selection. They have one pick in the third round, one in the fourth, one in the fifth, two in the sixth and one in the seventh.

It is unlikely any of the Penguins' draftees will have quite the thrill Bennett had, and not just because they will be drafted lower.

Bennett is from Gardena, Calif., in the Los Angeles area. He was surrounded by friends and a few generations of family members at the packed arena and became the highest-drafted Californian in NHL history, passing defenseman Jonathan Blum, who was selected 26th overall by Nashville in 2007.

Like a lot of Southern Californians who find hockey, Bennett first played on in-line skates before making the transition to ice because he was a Kings fan.

Having the draft in Los Angeles, he said, "shows the interest in hockey is growing and coming west."

Playing hockey is not his only talent.

"Growing up, my parents made me play five years of an instrument to continue to play hockey, and I chose piano," Bennett said. "I don't take lessons anymore, but I still can get on the keyboard and jam a little bit. Modern stuff, whatever's out, whatever's fun to play."

Bennett was a prospect who was hard to collar.

Various rankings and mock drafts had him projected anywhere from midway through the first round to early in the second.

He did not any sleep over it.

"I slept pretty well," he said. "I didn't know what to think -- going first [round] or wherever I got drafted, I was still going to be playing hockey for a long time.

"This is just a stepping stone for my career."

He is thrilled with the way things worked out, joining a club with centers such as Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Jordan Staal.

"If I keep maturing physically and in the game aspect, I hope to be in a spot playing with some unbelievable centers that I grew up idolizing and watching," Bennett said.

The biggest mystery of the draft surrounded the first two picks. Ontario Hockey League forwards Taylor Hall and Tyler Seguin were considered a clear notch ahead of the other prospects, but Edmonton, which had the first pick, did not show its hand early.

The Oilers wound up taking Hall, a left winger, with Seguin, a center, going to Boston with the second pick.

For more on the Penguins, read the Pens Plus blog with Dave Molinari and Shelly Anderson at www.post-gazette.com/plus. Shelly Anderson: shanderson@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1721.


Shelly Anderson: shanderson@post-gazette.com .


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