Boom or bust is the general consensus when it comes to the Penguins number one pick Beau Bennett. The 18-year-old California native is high on skill but has plenty of flaws to work on while playing at Denver University. Pittsburgh selected the British Columbia Hockey League star with the twentieth pick overall making him the highest Californian ever drafted. Entering the draft thescoutingreport.org ranked Bennett as the 38th best overall pick marking his lack of strength as his main weakness. At 6’1″ and 175 lbs. its not hard to see that BCJHL rookie of the year needs to put on weight, but if this is the biggest concern the Penguins will be more than pleased.What is encouraging is that he as an NHL size frame, he just needs to put on NHL size weight.
Bennett is oozing with potential, having gained 16 spots since the midterm rankings by Central Scouting Services. A force around the opposing net, the forward tallied 41 goals and 120 points in just 56 games with Penticton–it was the highest point total recorded in the BCHL since Toronto Maple Leafs forward Tyler Bozak chalked up 128 in 2007. A combination of pure talent and hockey IQ can be attributed to Bennett’s success. He is comfortable battling in front of the net, grinding in the corners or working the cycle down low. An equal threat to snipe a shot past the goalie or find a teammate backdoor, Bennett is perhaps the most versatile offensemen the Penguins have drafted since Sidney Crosby. His ability to score tough goals as well as spectacular ones from either wing position makes him a rare find, but what is even more impressive is his vision. Michael Remmerde of nhldraftnotes.com raved about Bennett, stating his “offensive ability is some of the best available in this draft. Great all-around offensive skills – terrific shot, excellent stickhandling, and great vision. Always seems to find open linemates with a crisp pass. Excellent shooting touch with a quick release and good accuracy. Has a wicked one-timer and can score in a lot of ways.”
By all accounts Bennett is one of the most skilled offensemen in the draft. According to Remmerde, only two or three of this years prospects possess better hands than the California native. While his first step may be a bit slow, his top-end speed is still above average. Bennett plays to his strengths though, excelling as more of an offensive zone player than a forward who takes advantage of the rush. With an absolutely explosive shot, superior hockey sense and vision, and dazzling hands it is a wonder that he was only ranked 38th by Central Scouting Services. Other sources such as thepipelineshow.com reported that scouts thought of Bennett as a first round pick though. TSN.ca heralded Bennett as the 18th best player in the draft and the Westerncollegehockeyblog.com even noted that Bennett was receiving top 10 consideration.
So why the vast difference in rankings?
There are four main concerns with Bennett’s game–the first being that he avoids any form of physical play. Corey Pronman of Premiumscouting.com stated that “his physical game is a major issue, as he shies away from anything that resembles physicality and if he wants to hang around in goal-scorer’s areas at the next level that has to change.” Much of this can be attributed to the fact that he is skinnier than an anorexic Ethiopian though. I fully expect a player of Bennett’s skill level to adapt his game accordingly once he reaches the NCAA level–he has too much talent and hockey sense not to. A bigger problem however is that Bennett lacks a solid defensive game. He was mainly asked to shoulder the offensive responsibilities of Penticton with not much emphasis on defense. An upgrade of his defensive requirements will certainly be demanded at Denver University, but Bennett will never be mistaken for Jordan Staal.These two problems were not much of an issue at the lower ranks of hockey and probably will not be an issue in the professional ranks either. While both problems are fixable, the reality is that Bennett will not be asked to be a defensive stud or physical force at the NHL level. The next two flaws are undoubtedly why Bennett was seen as such a risk though.
While the 18-year-old phenom was the star of the BCJHL, many scouts would have preferred to see him play against top competition every night. Insider Bob Mckenzie of TSN stated that Bennett “could be the talk of the draft if he gets selected as high as some teams have his 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.”
The BCJHL is a junior hockey league consisting of a high percentage of players who will never see the NHL. His 120 points are still impressive but posting half as many points in a better league such as the NCAA would be more appealing to scouts. The good news is he will require a minimum of two years of NCAA hockey before he is ready for the American Hockey League.
Even more humbling though is Bennett’s playoff stat line of 14 points in 15 games in the BCJHL. Penticton entered the postseason as the favorites but were upset largely due to Bennett’s disappearing act. Much of the blame can be attributed to his struggles with physicality, but there is no way to put his sub-par playoff performance in a good light. There are two points that Penguins fans should take relief in though:
1.) A couple of years with Denver in the WCHA will allow Bennett to adapt to physical play. As I mentioned earlier, a player with his skill level should be able to figure it out with relative ease.
2.) Providing Bennett reaches his full potential and wings either Crosby’s or Malkin’s line in the NHL, the physical play will not be focused on him but rather on the star of the line.
How does this all play out for the Penguins? Relatively well actually. Bennett is a great pick for the 2009 Stanley Cup Champions. He translates to a versatile offensive zone player and powerplay stud at the NHL level. What the Penguins are lacking most right now is a player that can compliment Crosby and Malkin–not a player who has to be the next Crosby or Malkin. As long as Bennett can continue on the offensive path he is on now Pittsburgh will be ecstatic. Playing on a line with Crosby or Malkin will allow him to dodge most of the physical play and rely almost solely on his superior talent. Bennett has the intangibles and unteachables–those are the most important things in a first round pick. If a different team would have drafted Bennett and needed him to be the franchise player then his downfalls would be an issue. In the Penguins case though, the talent is there, the franchise players are around him, and pressure is off. Bennett is free to be exactly the player he naturally is–a pure playmaker who puts the puck in the net and sparkles on the offensive end of the rink.
The second pick of the Penguins draft did not come until the third round thanks to the Jordan Leopold trade. Brian Rust is the exact opposite of Bennett. He is a defensive forward who will put his body in front of shots and kill key penalties. Offensively he is smart and rarely makes the wrong play or commits a bad turnover. Rust also displays good speed and a solid physical presence for his 6’1″ frame. Although he does not have a shot reminiscent of Bennett’s, he is a good finisher and will produce offensively. He was second on the U.S. team in goals when the squad won the under-18 championships in Belarus. Declaring Rust as a future Penguin seems a bit premature but odds are good that he will be a solid third line contributor somewhere in the NHL.
The best-case scenario for Rust is a 50-60 point contributor on a second line–which would have been good for third best on the Penguins this year. However, a more likely career for Rust is as an essential role player on a championship team. The Notre Dame commit resembles a more skilled Max Talbot and is a good pick up for Ray Shero in the third round.
The Penguins fourth-round pick came in the form of burly German Kuehnhackl. Kuehnhackl was ranked as the eighth best European prospect by Central Scouting and has loads of potential. The main fault many scouts found was that he is inexperienced and underdeveloped as a player. Insidepittsburghsports.com described the German as “[a prospect who] displays the speed, vision and offensive instincts of a potential star at the highest level.” His hockey sense is reported to be above average and his stride as smooth and effortless. Kuehnhackl is about as good of a fourth-round pick as was available. One concern is that the Penguins minor league system is not exactly known for developing studs out of late round picks though–it is a very real possibility that Kuehnhackl could be the first though.
Fifth-round pick Kenneth Agostino has been named the New Jersey High School Player of the year three consecutive times. He was listed as the 72nd best North American skater in Central Scouting final rankings and scored 50 goals in his final high school campaign. What is interesting about Agostino is that he moved up six spots from his midseason ranking. In order for someone ranked that low to climb six spots in half of a season he must have turned some heads. The Yale commit needs to improve his speed but manages good puck position down low. Analyzing a fifth-round pick is about as useful as car in Amish country though. The only certainty about Agostino is that he has major offensive talent and major time before he ever dawns an NHL sweater.
Joe Rogalski and Reid McNeill were both sixth round picks of the Penguins. The two players are the only defensemen taken by Pittsburgh and both have good size at six-plus feet. Rogalski was at one time projected to be a second or third round pick but has struggled to put his complete game together. The word on this kid is he has outstanding talent but is an underachiever. There are two ways of looking at this pick:
1.) The Penguins got a steal with an extremely skilled player in the sixth round
2.) Rogalski has not put it together yet and things only get tougher from here.
Option number two seems much more realistic than option number one. For a sixth round pick Rogalski is a good take, but Brock Otten of OHLprospects.com has him as one of the top 10 fallers of the 2010 draft and it will be hard to right the ship when Rogalski is facing tougher competition each year.
Shero did a good job of securing talent in the 2010 NHL draft. Scoring wingers are the primary need for the Penguins and the system is now stocked with them. Ultimately I believe Bennett will be a stud with either Rust or Kuehnhackl joining him at the NHL ranks. It is possible that both picks make it to the show but extremely unlikely that all three picks will wear the skating penguin. Many of the Penguins draft picks are raw but skilled meaning that there is plenty of potential for two scoring wingers to develop. Pittsburgh address exactly the needs they needed to address and will be reaping the benefits in three to four years.