2010 NHL Draft Prospect Profile: Beau Bennett

The last profile done here was on a player who very well could be a first rounder, Petr Straka.  Today's profile focuses on another player who could be a late first round section.  Or somewhere in the second round.  I'm getting a sense that the pool of prospects in the 2010 NHL Entry Draft is a bit mixed.  That's true for any draft on some level, but cases can be made for a lot of second-round ranked players to break into the first round.   Beau Bennett is such a player.

Beau Bennett - RW - 6'1" 173 lbs. - CSS Rank: 32 - Hometown:  Gardena, California (Source: NHL.com)
2009-10 Team: Penticton Vees - 56 GP - 41 G - 79 A - 120 Pts. - 20 PIM

The second highest ranked Californian in the draft is coming right out Penticton of the British Columbia Hockey League, a junior A league.  He is committed to the University of Denver for 2010-11, where he will be able develop further in a powerful NCAA conference.

Based on the vitals, he could be the first player one could legitimately write, "Must Improve: Beefiness."  If you're 6'1", 173 pounds probably is not enough to fill your frame.  However, let's see what others who have followed the prospect have written about him after the jump.

Starting with the little profile at NHL.com, one can learn that Bennett put up record-setting numbers as a rookie in the BCHL with 120 points and won gold with the United States in the World Junior A Challenge.   No, he didn't get picked up for any international competition, but the U.S. has their own team for such tournaments. His non-inclusion shouldn't be seen as an issue.  Here's Central Scouting Services' E.J. Hradek's short quote on Bennett:

"120 points in 56 games. Good size winger destined to follow maybe in the footsteps of one-time BCHL scoring leader Kyle Turris during his junior year."

Now, let me highlight one more part of that profile. Central Scouting Services ranked him 48th at midterm, and moved him up 16 spots among North American skaters to 32nd.   All this despite playing in a Junior A league and not having many other accolades other than being a viable scoring machine for Penticton.  I would think this would mean that there is truly substance behind those numbers.

In fact, this video from O2K Management shows off a lot of Bennett highlights both in Penticton and with the USA team in the World Junior A Championships.  I hope you enjoy "Right Now" by Van Halen, because that's the background song to this video.

While it doesn't fully show Bennett's entire game, the highlights alone make it easy to see that he's got the wheels, he's got the hands, he's got the vision, and he's got sense to make it rain goals and assists.  Definitely an offensive forward prospect.

Speaking of rankings, he's really over the place.  Let's start with The Scouting Report, who ranked him 38th among all prospects going into this year's draft.  Here's their short blurb:

A bit of a late bloomer who had a tremendous year in the BCHL after playing in the MEWHL with Los Angeles last season. His physical build is slender, but his skills are high end and he’s the type of player that can really break a game open with his ability to generate offense. He’s going to be heading to the University of Denver where he’ll need a few years as he’s a bit of a project right now. Don’t be surprised if a team is willing to step up and gamble on him in the late first round, either.

I'm not surprised he's billed as a project.  Bennett sparkled at a lower level of junior hockey - to maintain his college eligibility - and the first thing that grabs you is his numbers.  But that obscures what kind of player he would be in a more physical, larger, and more competitive league.  Fortunately, he'll get to do just that in the WCHA. 

However, there's a very good chance he won't even make it to 38th overall.   Let's go to NHL Fanhouse, where Bruce Ciskie did a profile on Bennett.  Here's an important summary of his strength and his weakness:

He is a responsible player, but he has to work on his defensive zone game a bit. Where he's at his best is around the opposing net. Bennett is usually found in front, using his nose for the puck to score both the pretty goals and the tough ones.

In the offensive zone, he is a gifted playmaker as well as a scorer.

Committed to the University of Denver, Bennett will have to spend a year or two in college, as his 175-pound frame won't hold up if he doesn't do something about it. Expect Bennett to struggle a bit in college while he tries to figure out the faster, more physical game he'll find there, and while he tries to add some muscle.

Again, Bennett needs to get bigger, work on his defense, and play against better competition. All things he'll get to do in Denver.  At least there doesn't seem to be any offensive issues, which is excellent. Some of that just isn't teachable and it seems Bennett has it.  Oh, and Ciskie & Fanhouse ranked Bennett 29th on their list of prospects.  A good bit of a distance from 38th.

Now let's switch to Coming Down the Pipeline, the blog of the The Pipeline Show's Guy Flaming and Dean Millard.  Back in March, they came up with a list of projected second rounders, and guess who was there? Bennett.  Yet, in the explanation, Flaming noted that he knew scouts that ranked him up as a first round selection.   To make the rankings murkier, check out this little post at Western College Hockey Blog discussing TSN's polling of scouts - one scout ranked Bennett in the top 10 of the draft.  Yes, the top 10. In the opposite end, Corey Pronman didn't rate Bennett well at all back in January at Puck Prospectus; perhaps his opinion changed now?

Basically, if you read mock drafts like Brad Holland's at NHL.com and see Bennett in the first round, it shouldn't surprise you.  At the same time, he could slip down.  It all depends on the make up of the draft.

Going back to Bennett's game, Kirk Luedeke of Bruins Draft Watch had this post on Bennett back in February.  What's notable about this post is the extended quote from Red Line Report's Mike Remmerde:

Half of my notes on Bennett consist of phrases like, 'Wow, can he really shoot the puck!' That Penticton team looks for him on the ice all the time. The whole offense seems geared to him and getting him the puck for scoring chances in the good areas. He's slight- he's got a big frame, but has a lot of filling out to do. His projection if he's going to be an NHL player is probably as a top-two line guy or nothing at all. His skating is good- he's real agile but isn't a dynamic game-breaker in that regard. Where his strength lies is when the puck is down low on the cycle and at finding a way to get open, find open linemates and score that way rather than from a bunch of solo rushes. And to be honest, that speaks much better for him than if he were scoring on a lot of individualistic plays. The whole problem is trying to figure out a Tier 2 player because the goaltending is substandard at that level. Is a guy who is picking the corners on a Tier 2 goalie going to be able to do it when he moves up to that next level? To me that's the biggest difference between major junior and tier 2- the quality of goaltending. So, Bennett still has a lot to prove."

Top two line winger or not-at-all? Interesting. Perhaps Bennett is a boom-or-bust prospect instead of a project?

This is especially notable given Remmerde maintains his own blog, NHL Draft Notes, and posted this more recent profile of Bennett after the BCHL season ended.  Upon repeated viewings, particularly in the playoffs, Remmerde came away with many doubts about Bennett's game.  The whole post is worth reading for a sobering take, but I'll quote the summary for convenience sake.

Summary: His stick-to-the-perimeter act and struggles late in the playoffs were a big red flag for me. I had visions of Ivan Huml dancing in my head after that. But there might be only two or three guys in this draft that have better hands. Ultra high risk, high reward - either he turns into a 1st/2nd liner for you or takes his perimeter show to the European pro leagues for the rest of his career. If it got to about the 22-25 range and Howden was gone, I'd roll the dice on this guy.

I would agree that his playoff performances, as described by Remmerde, are a big red flag.  Usually, you'd want to read something like what was said about Straka - where his intensity kicked up in the postseason.  Not the other way around.   I can't help but think that this explains why different people rank him all over the place.

What does the player himself think? Thanks to vees:blog (run by the play by play announcer of the Vees, Ryan Pinder), Dan Sallows had an interview with Bennett earlier this year.  Bennett answers the question on what he needs to improve upon in the future:

You are seen as being a power-play specialist, what are some of your other attributes, and is there anything you want to improve on?

Beau: I believe my hockey sense and creativity are my biggest assets. I always have fun with the game and enjoy coming to the rink everyday which also helps. I definitely need to work on my strength. Most of my weaknesses come from my strength and i need to really work on that in the offseason.

Again, Must Improve: Beefiness.  But seriously, it's good that he's cognizant of his size/strength issue.  Hopefully someone tipped him about the playoffs, his defensive game, and his lack of a physical game. 

I'm confident that going to the WCHA will help him realize and improve in those areas.  What if he's available and the Devils draft him?  The pick wouldn't surprise me and in some ways, it would make sense.  The Devils are generally patient with prospects, they have no problem drafting players right out of Junior A hockey (especially the BCHL), and Bennett would be a prospect with more offensive flair, which would help fill a dearth of offensive players in the system.

What worries me, however, is what Remmerde concluded about the player.  Suppose his evaluation is correct and he really is a high-risk, high-reward prospect.  The Devils have had enough second round draft picks not turn out well, and it's not certain that the ones from 2006-2009 will necessarily make it into the NHL either.  I'd like the Devils' top pick in this draft to have a safer projection, even if it means a lower ceiling on the player's potential.   Of course, the Devils may not even get the chance to draft him. Some team in the NHL apparently loves Bennett as a prospect and it isn't unreasonable for him to crack into the first round based on others evaluations.

Now it's your turn. Perhaps you've seen Bennett play and can offer a different opinion?  Are you concerned about the criticism of Bennett? Are you excited about his offensive capabilities? Is there additional information that I should include?  Please let me know your thoughts in the comments.

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