The Third Line Is A Good Fit For Bennett
Beau Bennett projects to be a fulltime winger for Sidney Crosby or Evgeni Malkin before long. But before long might not be the beginning of the 2013-14 season, and that’s not a bad thing.
Oftentimes the thought is that offensive prospects are best served filling offensive roles to utilize their talents. It makes sense in many ways, but rushing a prospect isn’t always the best method for development, even if the player shows signs of being ready.
We saw last season that, regardless of his linemates or icetime, Bennett made things happen. He played with an edge despite a small frame and handled defensive responsibilities at a surprisingly good level.
He even chipped in some goals and earned some top-line minutes on occasion. He was good enough that, around the trade deadline general manager Ray Shero told him he would be with the team when the season ended and the playoffs began.
While he wasn’t given the best opportunity to prove himself on the big stage, he was with the team, which was more than enough to provide a learning experience for the first-year professional.
Hockey, in many ways, is every bit as mental as it is physical. It’s why players “grip their sticks tighter” when in a slump, trash talk their opponents, and review hours of video on end. Of course, without the physical attributes the mental elements are worthless, but as we’ve seen with many players over the years, all the talent in the world will get a player nowhere if he isn’t hockey smart or if he lacks confidence.
Some may say that benching a youngster or bouncing him up and down the lineup is a confidence buster. But when a team shows enough faith in a young player to tell him he’s staying with the big club, everything else seems trivial.
One surefire way to burst a player’s confidence is to assume his talent alone will make him a good fit for a prominent role, even if he isn’t quite ready.
Bennett might have shown signs of being a top-six forward, but his long-term development will be best served if he plays a less prominent role before being eased onto a line with one of the two best centers in the world.
It might even help to enhance his overall game.
As I mentioned earlier, Bennett seemed to adapt to the role he was asked to fill during his rookie season. Need a fourth line spark plug? He’s your guy. Need a third line defensive forward? He’s got you covered. Unlike other prospects, such as Eric Tangradi, Bennett found a way to be useful regardless of his role.
He’s also been forced to learn how to handle different roles, while oftentimes sitting for long periods of time between shifts.
By starting Bennett on the third line with the defensively minded Brandon Sutter as his center, Bennett will continue to be forced to play out of his comfort zone and to learn an important facet of the game that will make him all the more valuable in the future.
Think about the career Pascal Dupuis has made for himself. Once considered nothing more than a third/fourth line penalty killer, Dupuis has advanced his career to become an integral part of the Penguins’ top line.
He and Bennett come from different pedigrees, so the comparison isn’t quite spot on. But what Dupuis did was take his defensive awareness to a scoring line, where he provided an opportunity for the center (Crosby) to focus less on his own end and focus more on creating offense.
Bennett may have an abundance of talent and creativity, but once he finds a home with Crosby or Malkin, he’ll be no better than the second best forward on the ice. Because of that, a bag of tricks that includes defensive responsibility and sacrifice will go a long way toward making him a viable, long-term option.
We’ve all watched as young players such as Crosby, Malkin, and Jordan Staal stepped into prominence, but that isn’t the norm and shouldn’t be expected from most players. For starters, those were three exception and unique talents. But they found a permanent home on a less than impressive Penguin team coming out of the 2005 lockout.
Times have changed for the Penguins, who now fancy themselves as one of the best offensive clubs in the NHL, with no need to rush or force young players into roles they aren’t ready to fill.
All good things come to those who wait, and I have a feeling Bennett is no exception.