It's safe to say that there's nothing safe about Beau Bennett, the Pittsburgh Penguins' first round draft pick.
Bennett, a right winger with the Penticton Vees, tied for the league lead in scoring in the British Columbia Hockey League (BCHL) this past season with 41 goals and 79 assists for a total of 120 points. Bennett will be enrolling at the University of Denver this coming fall to play for coach George Gwozdecky and his Miners.
TSN's Bob McKenzie had Bennett ranked as the 18th best available player in the draft:
:Another native Californian, from Gardena, who could be the talk of the draft if he gets selected as high as some teams have him ranked. A true wild card, cited as everything from Top 10 overall to the late second round, he scored 120 points for Penticton of the BCJHL. Still physically immature, he could suffer from "weaker league" syndrome but he’s bound to be one of the really interesting stories of this draft.
Bennett is widely considered to be a serious offensive talent with speed, an excellent shot, solid vision and serious upside. However, the player is not without his detractors, and of all the players in the draft, his rankings really seemed to fluctuate the most, ranging from teams rating him near the top ten to near the bottom of the second round.
Two major factors have made scouts wary of his potential:
1) Size. Though some sites list him at 6-foot-1, and weighting upwards of 185 pounds, Bennett realistically weighs in at closer to 170, and will need to add some muscle in order to handle the rigors of the professional game. When asked about his weaknesses as a player, Bennett said,
I definitely need to work on my strength. Most of my weaknesses come from my strength and i need to really work on that in the offseason.
The positive to this is that Bennett has identified one of his serious flaws and intends to correct it. Bennett fully growing into his frame will go a long way to quelling major concerns about his size.
2) Fear of traffic. Bennett is sometimes viewed as a power play specialist (his 25 power play goals last season attest to that) who can only create with space on the perimeter, shying away from getting into the physical battles that are commonplace in the NHL. Though he considers himself to be a player who likes to go to the net to create offense, there are those who disagree:
His stick-to-the-perimeter act and struggles late in the playoffs were a big red flag for me. I had visions of Ivan Huml dancing in my head after that. But there might be only two or three guys in this draft that have better hands. Ultra high risk, high reward - either he turns into a 1st/2nd liner for you or takes his perimeter show to the European pro leagues for the rest of his career. If it got to about the 22-25 range and Howden was gone, I'd roll the dice on this guy.
Of course, it can be expected that if Bennett bulks up, he may develop the confidence to do dirty work.
Now, to backtrack a bit, small sentence in the middle of the above quote, however, is why Shero went with this pick:
Ultra high risk, high reward..
Ray Shero has shown a penchant for, as the title of this stream suggests, rolling the dice when it comes to the draft. Suggesting that Shero would take a player like John McFarland or Evgeny Kuznetsov in the first round, like we did in our initial post, was based on this idea that Shero would prefer to take the player with, in his eyes, the highest potential available than settle for a safe pick.
Though it will often be harped on, Angelo Esposito was byproduct of this mindset: The kid has the potential but who knows if he'll reach it?
In 2008, Shero didn't have much of a draft to work with, the first three picks being shipped off in deadline deals meant to help bolster the Penguins for eventual playoff runs (obviously good decisions). However, this lends credence to the thought that Shero's willing to gamble on his draft, neutering one to make a run at the Cup.
Patience will be required with Bennett as he looks to be a player who, based on his development in size and adaptation to more rigorous competition, may be a full three-four years out of the NHL,
To be fair to Bennett, he is widely regarded to possess good work ethic and is a devoted back checker...
Pittsburgh's top selection in the NHL Draft Beau Bennett (via videobyUSCHO)
... and, as in the previous interview, Bennett seems to know his weaknesses. You'd like to think that, unlike an Esposito or potentially McFarland (who managed to plummet out of the first round), Bennett's level of self-analysis and awareness could prove a boon in helping him maximize his considerable potential.
Shero appears to be taking the Adam Dunn route to management... swing for the fences or strike out. Hopefully, Bennett proves to be a home run.