Throwing on the Pittsburgh Penguins sweater last night in a hostile Winnipeg environment, Beau Bennett did more than just play his first NHL game, he earned the respect for his new teammates in each moment of his 11:37 time on ice.
"I had fun out there, first and foremost," Bennett told the media after the Penguins 3-1 victory over the Jets. "It got easier as the game went on. Lot of jitters during the anthems. That was to be expected. But when I got out there I didn't feel nervous or anything. Just kind of let the game happen. It’s a similar system to Wilkes-Barre, so it wasn't a big change other than the speed and size of some of the guys."
Offensively, there are high hopes for Bennett with the Penguins' offensive juggernauts. But it wasn't his offensive game that won him over in the locker room. A couple shots registered and one making it to net for a stop isn't bad for the rookie's debut. Winged on the third line and even played the second power-play unit, Bennett did look more comfortable on the offensive as the night went on.
Defensively, Bennett certainly gained the attention of his bench while on the ice. Sacrificing the body, Bennett dropped down into oncoming Jets' shots twice including a big block in the second period.
Winnipeg was buzzing in the Pens' zone and the team needed a clear for fresh legs on the ice. With the puck at the point, Bennett was given the split second decision whether or not to throw himself into a point blank slap shot from Jets defenseman Zach Bogosian. Bennett then earned the respect of his teammates.
"I thought the blocked shot probably won over his teammates more than anything else he did in the game," head coach Dan Bylsma said in his post game comments. "It was a great blocked shot. He stuck with it and got the puck out in a second period where we desperately needed to get some guys off the ice. I know the bench was pretty excited to see Beau go down there and make the play."
Back in 2010, Pens Universe contributor Nicole Tracey got to talk with Bennett at the Penguins Prospect Camp. You can see in the interview transcript [which you can view here] he was a pretty wide-eyed kid. In five years, he said he'd like to establish himself as a top six forward in the NHL.
"No matter where I am, I’m going to keep working to get better and improve upon every year," Bennett told Pens Universe back in 2010.
No question last night's performance from Beau Bennett is a gritty start to his NHL career. I'm sure he was smiling like a butcher's dog.