The Pittsburgh Penguins started training camp this past Wednesday, still searching for that one skater to fill the final top-six slot.
That player might be winger Beau Bennett.
Bennett, 20, barely has half a season of professional experience under his belt, and he is a strong candidate to start as Evgeni Malkin’s right winger on the second-line.
Although nothing is set in stone just yet, Bennett has been skating with Malkin and James Neal so far during camp — which leads speculation to believe they’re giving him first dibs.
According to Michelle Crechiolo of the Pittsburgh Penguins official team website, Neal was reportedly advocating Bennett earlier for the right-wing position:
“We’ve got lots of options. But Beau is coming in his second year and he’s been around and sees how things work. I’m sure he’ll get a good chance to play. He looks great, (from) skating with him and watching him right now. So I’m sure he’ll be there. But you never know.”
Despite leading the race for the final top-six spot, Bennett still will have a ways to go, considering the team will most likely give others a look as well — notably Jussi Jokinen.
Jokinen, who is currently skating on center Brandon Sutter’s third-line during camp, has the NHL experience and scoring ability that would fit just nicely on the second-line.
Unfortunately for the veteran Fin’, he was scratched on multiple occasions this past postseason, and he has little experience playing on the second-line. So there’s a few downsides with Jokinen’s chances of landing that top-six role.
As Neal mentioned in his quote earlier, Bennett has been in the system, and even though he’s barely a rookie, his skill accompanied with youth gives him slight leverage.
We’ll have to see how it plays out, but as of right now Bennett is the definite frontrunner.
In 26 regular-season games last season, Bennett registered 14 points (3G, 11A) and skated to a satisfying plus-7 rating. He scored one goal in six postseason contests as well.
Before he was called up, Bennett played well enough with the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins that he was named to the American Hockey League (AHL) All-Star Classic.