When the Pittsburgh Penguins drafted Beau Bennett 20th-overall in the 2010 draft, they were sure he would develop into a top-six sniper. However, after seeing Beau play for sections of the last three years, he has failed to take the next step. Most of his time this season has been spent in the bottom-six and he has failed to impress the coaching staff.
Imagine that: a 6’2″ 195 pound sniper isn’t filling a fourth line role very well.
In the Penguins last two games, Bennett has been given time with top-six players and he has stepped up his game. The underlying reason is that he’s being asked to play a role that he is meant to play.
A typical fourth line player is physical, defensively sound and gritty. Bennett does not match a single one of these characteristics. That’s why it has been maddening to watch head coach Mike Johnston deploy a line of Bennett, Maxim Lapierre and Craig Adams.
While Lapierre and Adams are good fits on the fourth line for now, Bennett is not and will never be. Don’t think I’m the only one who has seen Bennett as a victim of circumstance. Jason Mackey of The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review jokingly tweeted this out after he scored the other night.
It's amazing what Beau Bennett can do when he's not completely miscast as a fourth liner.
— Jason Mackey (@Mackey_Trib) April 8, 2015
As humorous of a tweet it was, it’s a sobering reality. Bennett is not built to be a fourth line player and asking him to be one will only hurt the Pens’ playoff hopes. Given the team is devoid of top-six talent, Bennett playing in the top two lines is not a bad option for Johnston.
The central problem is the view that many Penguins reporters have. A lot of them have already labeled the 23-year-old a bust. Whether or not they’re right still remains to be seen. In all truth, a player is not a bust at Bennett’s age and there is still plenty of time for him to develop into a solid forward. It just means his growth is taking longer than some other players. Maybe if the California native continues to not produce in two or three more years you can label him as a bust, but it’s simply too early.
Why does any of this matter?
Bennett’s contract expires at the end of the year and he will be a restricted free agent. Many have suggested that Pittsburgh would be wise to let him walk and rebuild without him. Their argument stems from how the Pens have been careless with assets and traded for rental players nearly every season.
However, if that is your argument, why would you let a first-round pick leave your club when the player is only 23? The kid only has 94 career games under his belt due to injuries and roster moves.
It seems premature to judge a young player who has flashed brilliance countless times. Lapierre is a decent fourth line center, but Adams should be in an AHL club’s bottom-six. Yet you expect a player who isn’t built for a fourth line role to step up on the world’s biggest stage and make his game focused on checking? Then when he is unsuccessful in changing the way he plays, you label him a bust?
That’s some of the Pittsburgh media for you. Don’t get me wrong, I really like a lot of them and they have good ideas but they’re off their rockers with this one.
Bennett is coming off of a contract that pays him $900,000 per season and is a first-round pick who could become an elite scorer. You don’t let that kind of player walk, especially when you could re-sign him long-term for a similar rate.
Now that’s an actual misuse of assets.
Bennett needs to remain a Pittsburgh Penguin and be given a chance inside the top six or top nine, before you can fully judge him. GM Jim Rutherford would be smart to ink Bennett to a 3 or 4 year deal at a modest rate. There are enough inadequate players on the roster and Bennett is not part of the problem.