The Beau Bennett Dilemma

Published on February 14th, 2015
Beau Bennett's Had a Rocky Year for the Pens (Photo via PittsburghPenguins.com)

Beau Bennett’s had a rocky year for the Pens (Photo via PittsburghPenguins.com)

By: Jim Meinecke

Beau Bennett’s young career has been well-documented. He was drafted first overall by the Penguins in 2010 and came highly touted. Aside from the NHL, he has produced at every level thus far. That being said, his injury woes are a sore subject, so to speak, and they date back to his college days at the University of Denver. Those injuries have followed him throughout his short career, and it has made life frustrating for the 23-year-old. For every positive about Beau Bennett, there seems to be an equal negative. For example, here is an article from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s Seth Rorabaugh from January 16, 2015 titled, “Penguins seeing benefit of now-healthy Beau Bennett.” Almost two weeks later, the Penguins made Beau Bennett a healthy scratch for a few games and a CBS Pittsburgh article features a quote from Jay Caufield saying “the Pens have soured on Beau Bennett.” So, what does a team do with such a conflicted talent on their roster? Let’s take a look at some pros and cons.


PROS

Youth and an Entry-Level Contract

It is rather hard to believe, but Beau Bennett is only 23 years old and he has only played in 87 games for the “big club”. This is hardly enough of a period to truly gauge whether he is a long-term solution for the Penguins. He has been held back with some injuries and inconsistent play, but he has also shown flashes of greatness. Here is a quote from Rick Tocchet from Seth’s piece:

“I’ve really liked his mental toughness. He’s been injured we all know the last two, three years. This year, he came to camp ready to go. He was one of our best players in training camp…”

Think about that…he was one of our best players in camp. That is heaping some high praise when you have a team with Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Chris Kunitz, Pascal Dupuis, etc. So, there is no denying his raw talent. There is also no denying that it is hard to beat his current price. He is making $900,000 a year, which is chump change if the organization thinks they have a top-six talent. Even if the Pens would want to trade him for another piece, can they match his value at that price?

Good advanced stats

While Beau Bennett hasn’t put up great numbers so far in his career (87 games: 11 goals – 25 assists – 36 points), his advanced stats are good.

Career advanced stats, by season. (via waronice.com)

Career advanced stats, by season. (via waronice.com)

Bennett’s worst year Corsi-wise was his freshman season, and that was still at 47.3. Last season and this season are well over 50% at 57.3 and 54.2 respectively. To put that into a little persepective, Sidney Crosby’s corsi this season is 55%, so very comparable numbers. Bennett’s PDO has also been lower this season, but is slowly creeping back toward 100. Additionally, Bennett’s Fenwick is 55%, which is slightly better than Crosby’s at 54.6%. I am not a huge advanced stats guy, but I do think they can help shape the story about a player. Bennett hasn’t looked very good on the ice, but all of his numbers suggest otherwise. Generally, when he is on the ice, good things are happening, even if it doesn’t always reflect on the score sheet. It also suggests that the team is doing good things while he is out there and they are typically pushing the offense. One would think it would only be a matter of time before his production starts to show up in the box score as well.

CONS

Effort

As I mentioned earlier, Bennett’s been a healthy scratch in a few games recently. While it seemed very puzzling to many fans, Dejan Kovacevic shed some light on the topic last week:

“This is solely about Bennett. I can’t stress that enough.

What I was told by team officials today is that Bennett’s recent performances betrayed a lack of what the coaching staff calls ‘battle level,’ and they aren’t talking about fighting, of course. It’s about puck possession. It’s always about puck possession with Johnston. Their video studies showed not only that he was losing battles for 50/50 pucks along the boards but also that he wasn’t particularly trying to win them. The latter was disturbing enough that he was scratched once. When he returned and continued as before, it was decided flying out here to Western Canada that a harder lesson was at hand.”

When fans hear Bennett is struggling with puck possession and see him with a 54.2% corsi, those do not seem to jive. However, the team and coaching staff are referring to his puck possession in terms of board play, fighting for the puck, and getting to the front of the net. Since it is Valentine’s Day, I will say this, it appears the coaching staff thinks Bennett has a heart problem. Fortunately, it is not life-threatening, but it is certainly a threat to his roster spot. While I can understand some people being upset he is not in the lineup, I do not mind the coaching staff asking everyone to chip in and be on the same page. If fans say that this is not Bennett’s game, I would counter by saying that if Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin have bought into this system and this way of thinking, then there is no excuse why Bennett shouldn’t as well.

Where does he fit?

Part of the other reason fans were so upset that Bennett was in and out of the lineup recently is because “he is more-skilled than Craig Adams, Zach Sill, Nick Spaling, etc.” While this is undoubtedly true, it also does not mean you are given a roster spot because you are more talented than those other folks. I agree that Bennett’s game fits better in the top-six of this team, but who does he replace now that everyone is healthy? The Kunitz – Crosby – Perron line has been very good lately, and while Chris Kunitz may not be the same player he was last year, he is much more consistent than Bennett is at putting points on the board. The second line of Comeau – Malkin – Hornqvist has probably been the Penguins’ best line the past two games. Comeau has picked up exactly where he left off before his injury, and he has earned a spot in the top-six. Meanwhile, Patric Hornqvist has been wreaking havoc in front of the net and has had a tremendous forecheck. The short answer is that Bennett does not deserve to be in the top-six with the players mentioned. As for the bottom six, Bennett’s game does not work as well with grinding style. Once again, that is why he has been scratched. Is he more talented than the bottom six? Yes. The Penguins still need to put four lines on the ice, and if Bennett cannot play with the bottom six, then the coaching staff is right to play those that can. * (this is not an endorsement for Zach Sill)

Injuries

This has to be brought up under the cons section. While it is a bit unfair because there is no doubt Bennett has had some terrible luck, he has earned the moniker of ‘injury-prone’. As I mentioned earlier, his injuries started in college at the University of Denver with a pretty severe wrist injury. He has continued to have wrist troubles in his pro career and has had other injuries sprinkled in as well to his knees and lower-body. He is still young enough to overcome these injuries, of course, but it is hard for the organization and fan base to think Bennett will consistently be healthy. For a team with two superstars that want to win now, the organization may not have the time for Bennett to prove what he can do.

What should the team do with Beau Bennett? (via pittsburghmagazine.com)

What should the team do with Beau Bennett? (via pittsburghmagazine.com)

Future for Beau

With all of the above taken into consideration, what do the Penguins do with Beau Bennett? Admittedly, I am a bit conflicted myself. I do think his value is something that cannot be beaten, and he has some of the best raw talent on the team. I also see that he is not living up to the coaching staff’s expectations. In his third season, I expect a bit more from Bennett as well. With him being a RFA after this season, I would lean toward the team not signing him to another contract once this one expires. With that in mind, if Jim Rutherford can use Bennett as a chip in a trade that can help this team win now or win next season, I think he should take it. It would not surprise me if Bennett goes to another team and has a productive career, but I don’t think that happens without a change of scenery out of Pittsburgh.


As always, thanks for reading, and let me know your thoughts via Twitter @PandaPSU.