PITTSBURGH — Without coming right out and saying it, Penguins coach Dan Bylsma alluded that his NHL playing career might have gone differently had he participated in a prospect development camp like the one currently going on at Consol Energy Center.
Prospects throughout the Penguins organization have gathered together to learn fundamentals of the team’s system while participating in team-building exercises as well. It’s all an attempt to familiarize young players — such as last year’s first-round pick, Beau Bennett — with the way things are done in Pittsburgh in hopes that they’ll be in a Penguins sweater some day.
“When I was 26-years-old and then 28-years-old and then 31-years-old playing the game I learned some pretty amazing things about the game,” Bylsma said. “Not just, ‘Oh, you know what, go play,’ and you play your pro career and see how good you can be.
“I learned a lot of things too late in my life. Those are some of the things you try and bring to your team and bring to your players, (teach) those habits and those things about the game to the players as soon as possible.”
For a guy like Bennett, this week’s camp is invaluable. He was selected with the 20th overall pick in 2010 after scoring 41 goals, 120 points with Penticton of the BCHL.
He committed to play college hockey at the University of Denver and faced some adversity last season. His numbers went down — nine goals, 25 points in 37 games — and he tore his MCL, which required extensive rehab.
Still, he’s using last season and this year’s camp as learning experiences. Already, after one year at Denver, he’s seen improvements in his own game.
“My first three steps have gotten a little faster, just being around the bigger guys and training harder in the gym,” Bennett said. “That will continue to improve. I wanna keep getting stronger. There’s a lot of room to improve and I realize that, going back to Denver, I wanna work as hard as I can and try and make the most of next year.”
Bylsma says that work needs to continue. While the Penguins coach noticed an increase in size and strength in Bennett, he said there’s still room to grow.
“He’s a year older, a year more mature physically,” Bylsma said. “That’s an area where he needed to work on. He needs to continue to work on his strength and power.”
As for the mental side of the game, Bylsma says Bennett has made even greater strides. No longer is he the wide-eyed kid gazing at the enormity of everything around him. Now, he’s used to the setting and it shows.
“I see a kid that’s a little more confident,” Bylsma said. “(I) spent some time with Beau last year, saw him in the season when we were in Colorado. He’s more familiar, more comfortable and at ease on the ice — it translates off the ice as well. “
From one development camp to the next, Bennett has shown growth. You can credit some of that to the competition college hockey presents, Bennett says.
“I played against some guys last year (that were) 24, 25 years old,” he said. “Getting that extra experience, learning from those guys, playing against them in practice and stuff even helps out. Getting better in the corners and learning that pro-style game really helped after last year.
“It’s still a learning experience,” Bennett added later. “I learn from the guys like (Zach) Sill and (Eric) Tangradi who’ve been there, been at the pro level. I’m just coming to the rink every day, taking it all in and taking all the information going forward back in to Denver.”
Using development camp to his advantage, and showing Bylsma how much it’s worth.
“You still see the ability to get free in open ice and get his shot off, those hands in and around the net that were one of the reasons we thought Beau Bennett was attractive in the first round,” Bylsma said.