As is the case with just about every team, the New Jersey Devils are configuring their lines with a boatload of new faces heading into the 2016-17 campaign.
Their biggest prize of the offseason, Taylor Hall, is in all likelihood set to skate alongside Adam Henrique, but as far as the third it’s anybody’s guess.
Beau Bennett, however, is booming his candidacy to absorb those responsibilities.
Slotting on the top line the past two preseason outings, Bennett has totaled two goals and generated multiple scoring chances. While he’s a player who can certainly fill the void on the right side, head coach John Hynes would like to see him manufacture those types of opportunities on a nightly basis to merit being a top line guy.
“He’s got great hand skills, he has very good offensive instincts and hockey sense and we think that complements guys like Adam [Henrique] and Hallsie [Taylor Hall],” he said. “What we’re looking for from Beau is the consistency of his game. If you’re going to be on that line, that’s going to be the expectation.”
Acquired at this past NHL Draft from the Pittsburgh Penguins, Bennett and Hynes are familiar with one another from their Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins days. In that one season they spent together, Bennett registered 28 points (7G, 21A) in 39 games, which is the last time he reached the 20-point plateau.
Hynes wants to see Bennett not only display repetitiveness, but to showcase a better compete-level when it’s a non-man-advantage situation.
“I thought on the power-play and 5-on-5 he was a factor because he made plays,” Hynes said, in regards to his Oct. 1 performance against the Rangers. “He was strong on the puck, which was something we had talked to him about that we know he has skill on open-ice and can score when he’s in scoring situations, but the 5-on-5 has to be better.”
A former first-round selection (20th overall) back in 2010, Bennett collected 120 points (41G, 79A) in just 56 games for the Penticton Vees of the British Columbia Hockey League (BCHL) prior to him being drafted, so his potential has never been questioned. A pinpoint shot with a knack for positioning himself properly, the issue with Bennett has been his ability to stay healthy for an entire season.
Suffering from season-ending wrist injuries and recurring knee ailments, Bennett’s amassed only 129 games through four seasons. Of course, Hall is another injury-ridden player. Still, if Bennett stays off the shelf, this change of scenery could be what he needed.
As for his spot on the top line, it’s worth to experiment, given the playmaking prowess of both Hall and Henrique; Bennett would station in as the goal-scoring winger.
Hynes has a few options to move around, but Bennett could wind up being a steal should he flourish in the top three.