Penguins prospect proves fearless after bout with injuries

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WILKES-BARRE, Pa. -- There aren't any questions about Beau Bennett's hands.

Haven't been for a long time.

The Penguins certainly didn't have any when they invested their first-round draft choice in him in 2010.

Any worries about his hockey sense and instincts should have disappeared long ago, as well.

Bennett moves around the ice with a purpose, knows where he's supposed to be and what to do when he gets there.

And what might have been the final uncertainty for people outside the organization -- the ones who saw little, if anything, of him in two injury-shortened seasons at the University of Denver -- likely has been erased by his work during his first two games as a professional.

Yeah, Bennett has some serious offensive talent, but he isn't even a little shy about operating in areas where the traffic and elbows are high. Give him a reason to go behind the goal or into the corner or in front of the net, and he doesn't hesitate.

Bennett made his pro debut in Wilkes-Barre's 4-3 preseason victory at Rochester Wednesday, and the most striking term Baby Penguins coach John Hynes invoked while describing his performance in that game was "fearless."

That's particularly significant because Bennett not only is gifted, but is coming back from a wrist injury that had to be surgically repaired and limited him to 10 games in his sophomore season at Denver.

None of that was evident against the Americans.

"He was going into battle situations, 100 percent," Hynes said.

Bennett did the same thing in a rematch with the Americans two nights later and, while he sat out the Baby Penguins' 3-2 exhibition loss to Hershey Saturday night at Mohegan Sun Arena Saturday, he is expected to dress for Wilkes-Barre's game against the Bears at 5 p.m. today in Hershey, Pa.

Bennett said he feels no lingering effects of the wrist injury that forced him to miss 33 games in 2011-12, or the knee injury that limited him to 37 appearances in his freshman year.

How much his development might have been stunted by those physical issues will remain a mystery -- "I'll never know, because I didn't get to play those games," Bennett said -- but he acknowledged that the wrist injury and the recovery time required after his operation have had an impact on one of his greatest assets, his shot.

"Prior to the injury, I thought my shot was as good as it's been," he said. "Now, with the wrist thing coming into play, it's getting back to good strength, good mobility.

"I just have to keep trying to improve my shot, because being in a cast for two months, you really lose a lot of strength and movement in your elbow and stuff, so I have to keep working at that. I don't want to stop getting better."

Bennett said he has not set any statistical objectives for the coming season, adding "I just want to have an impact all year long."

That dovetails nicely with the Penguins' organizational approach to productivity. Rather than establishing statistical objectives for players to chase, coaches focus on developing various aspects of the players' games, believing that sound execution will translate to statistical success.

Offense-oriented forwards, for example, won't be told that they're expected to contribute, say, 20 goals or 30 assists. Rather, they will be coached and evaluated on things like how many scoring chances they create and how effectively they play along the boards.

"We don't put end-result goals on the players," Hynes said. "What we have are foundations that we sit down [and discuss] with every player. Our development staff and our management will sit down and we'll discuss, as a group, every player.

"With Beau, we wouldn't set any goals for him, as far as goals and assists, because that's something he can't control. What he can control is getting opportunities to score, his work ethic and is his game improving? If you do those things, ultimately the end results are going to happen for you."

NOTES -- Joseph Morrow and Jason Megna scored the Wilkes-Barre goals, both on the power play. ... Penguins center Evgeni Malkin did not have a point in Metallurg Magnitogorsk's 4-1 loss against Metallurg Novokuznetsk in a Kontinental Hockey League game Saturday. ... Penguins forward Dustin Jeffrey signed to play with Tilburg Trappers in the Netherlands during the NHL lockout. ... A contingent of Penguins coaches and talent-evaluators, including Dan Bylsma, Jason Botterill, Bill Guerin and Todd Reirden attended London's Ontario Hockey League game in Erie to watch Knights defensemen Scott Harrington and Olli Maatta, both of whom are Penguins prospects.

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Dave Molinari: Dmolinari@Post-Gazette.com or Twitter: @MolinariPG.


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