Penguins' Bennett getting stronger
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A year ago when Beau Bennett was drafted in the first round by the Penguins, it seems he was asked the same two things repeatedly during his first development camp with the club.
What's it like to be a top-flight hockey prospect from California, and don't you need to get a little stronger to play in the NHL? The questions weren't necessarily posed in that order.
Bennett, back for his second summer camp, is still from California, although he played at the University of Denver as a freshman last season, and he's still not imposing. The winger is listed at 6 feet 1, 173 pounds.
Still, there is a noticeable difference.
"Now I see a kid who's a little more confident," Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said.
And even though Bennett's descriptors don't look imposing on paper, he does seem to be filling out physically, a key attribute to complement his skill.
"He's a year more mature physically, and that's an area he needs to continue to work on -- his strength and his power," Bylsma said. "You see that now, the size he is on the ice vs. the tall, slender kind of kid he was when we got him and he was 18 years old.
"You still see the ability to get free, get a shot off, those hands in and around the net. That's one of the big reasons we thought Beau Bennett was attractive."
Bennett said being a first-round draft pick hasn't had a huge impact on him in terms of how he is perceived -- "Not much changes. Being from California, hockey's not really a big thing there," he said -- but a year of college hockey brought a lot of benefits after playing junior hockey for the Penticton Vees of the British Columbia Hockey League.
Bennett had nine goals and 25 points in 37 games for Denver.
"You're playing against older guys," he said. "We played last year against some guys 24, 25 years old. You get the extra experience, playing against those guys and going against guys in practice. Just getting into the corners and trying to learn that pro style of game, it really helped.
"It's really intense games because we only play twice a week."
Bennett also tapped into the weight room and staff resources there to work on that one deficiency everyone repeatedly asked him about, and it shows.
"He is an impact player in traffic," said Wilkes-Barre/Scranton coach John Hynes, who is running the prospect camp.
"You can see that he feels more comfortable playing against bigger, stronger guys. Last year you could see the thought process, that he wanted to do certain things, but he didn't have the strength. This year, you can see that he can do what his mind is telling him to do physically."
Bennett has seen an upgrade in one particular aspect of his game, his explosiveness.
"I think my first three steps have gotten a little faster, just with being around the bigger guys and training in the gym," he said.
"That will continue to improve. I want to keep getting stronger. There's a lot of room to improve. I realize that going back to Denver. I want to work as hard as I can and try to make the most of next year."
That's because his sophomore season could be his last in college.
Bennett has said he hopes to turn pro next spring, although he downplayed that this week.
"I just want to see how the year goes first," he said. "I'm looking forward to the year in Denver. We've got a great team coming back.
"If all goes as planned, and I develop like I hope to, maybe leave. If not, I've got a great place in Denver to go back to."
Either way, the California kid is expected to be back for his third development camp next summer, bigger and stronger.
First Published July 16, 2011 12:00 am