Beau Bennett: Did Pittsburgh Miss the Mark by Drafting the Oft-Injured Winger?

Beau Bennett is a phenomenal hockey player.

His deceptive mix of raw offensive skill, creative vision, and physicality has him destined for a solid NHL career.

However, through the first 54 games of this career, one thing about Bennett has become painfully clear – his propensity to miss time with injury.

It is rarely a player’s fault when they are struck down by the injury bug and forced to miss time. Indeed in the case of Bennett, he has simply been a victim of unfortunate circumstance as he has piled up lower body and upper body injuries, and again as he recently contracted the mumps virus.

That being said, professional sports are a venue for results and while Bennett remains an excellent player when healthy and an exceptional human being, one has to wonder what the Penguins could have had if they had happened to draft someone who came upon a different stroke of luck.

With that in mind, let’s take a look back at the 2010 NHL Entry Draft in Los Angeles, California.

Pittsburgh approached the podium for the 20th pick in the first round, and they called the name of California’s own Beau Bennett. It was a great pick at the time, and it very well still could be, as long as Bennett can make an extended return from his injury woes and become the player he showed flashes of earlier this year.

But who did the Pens give up when they called Bennett’s name? Let’s stick to wingers because it was clear the Pens’ brass intended to draft a player to complement their depth at the centre position.

Even so, there were plenty of options, including these five who have since become NHL standouts:

1. Tyler Toffoli

Dropping way down to the second round and the 47th pick overall, Toffoli made quite an impact after he was snagged by the Los Angeles Kings. After getting a taste of regular season and playoff action during the 2012-13 campaign, Toffoli’s real breakout came last season, wherein he posted 29 points in 62 games followed by 14 points during the postseason to help LA claim the Stanley Cup. This season has seen Toffoli ramp it up even more, racking up 24 points 35 games thus far during significant time on the second line of one of the NHL’s strongest clubs.

2. Kevin Hayes

This one may have been a dodged bullet as Hayes showed little loyalty to the club that actually did draft him (the Chicago Blackhawks), opting instead to finish his college career at Boston College before signing with the New York Rangers prior to this season. His skill is undeniable, however, and he’s started to get his footing in the big leagues, posting 12 points in 28 games thus far this season. After posting 28 goals and 67 points in only 29 games during his last year of college, it’s clear Hayes’ ceiling is much higher than his current output. The fact that he’s 6’5 and 225 lbs doesn’t hurt either.

3. Devante Smith-Pelly

Taken 42nd overall by the Anaheim Ducks, Smith-Pelly has shown a similar tendency to use his size (6’0, 222 lbs) to help his team rack up wins – something he does for one of the league’s strongest in the Ducks. In fact, Anaheim has enough confidence in Smith-Pelly to play him on their first line alongside captain Ryan Getzlaf – a roster position not taken lightly considering how reliant Anaheim is on Getzlaf’s production. After dominating in the AHL to the tune of 27 goals and 43 points in only 55 games, Smith-Pelly has shown he can grow into a solid NHL contributor.

4. Emerson Etem

Speaking of Anaheim, they also happened to nab another promising winger in the 2010 draft when they took Etem with the 29th pick in the first round. Ranked as the 8th best North American skater in his draft class, Etem has shown flashes of his future success during his stints with Anaheim, and after putting up a similarly dominant AHL performance (24 goals, 54 points in 50 games) he has earned a spot within the Ducks’ top-six – earning the nod above talented players such as Jakob Silfverberg.

5. Jason Zucker

Taken 59th overall by the Minnesota Wild, Zucker took some time to break out after his first few stints in the NHL. He’s gotten off to a strong start this season, however, posting 12 goals already in only 32 games, earning himself a place among Minnesota’s top-six – again earning the nod over other talented players like Nino Niederreiter. Currently the third-highest goal scorer on his team, Zucker is similarly beginning to showcase some promising play, and is cementing his place in the big leagues while doing so.

Looking at the names of these players, most notably the first few, the Pens certainly had the chance to be a different club had they opted to go another direction. Not to mention a fair few forwards who didn’t play on the wing that could’ve been quite useful, like Evgeny Kuznetsov of the Washington Capitals or Brock Nelson of the New York Islanders (who’s already racked up 14 goals and 27 points this season).

Is Bennett a better player than those mentioned above? I truly believe he is – at the very least, he’s right there with guys like Toffoli and Hayes.

But at a certain point, skill becomes of little relevance if you can’t stay on the ice for any significant amount of time.

After already putting together one of the most extensive injury lists of his draft class, Bennett is still leaving fans and teammates wanting more, and wondering what could have been.

Here’s hoping Beau can get back on his feet and turn it around.

 

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