June 7, 2010

Beau Bennett draws comparison to The Great One

Coaches often hem and haw when asked to compare a prospect to a well-known National Hockey Leaguer. "I don't like doing this," said Fred Harbinson, who coached 2010 University of Denver recruit Beau Bennett last season. Bennett racked up 41 goals and 120 points as a rookie for Harbinson's Penticton Vees of the British Columbia League …

"But you can tell that (Bennett) grew up in L.A. Obviously Gretzky going to L.A. and changing the game for those kids there, (Bennett) makes plays below the goal line that remind me of exactly that."

Did he just compare an 18-year-old forward to the NHL's all-time leading scorer and record-holder of all record-holders? Harbinson admitted it's "kind of a crazy comparison" to mention The Great One in the same sentence as Bennett.

"But when you see him get the puck below the goal line, he seems to make the plays 99 percent of the time," Harbinson said. "His ability to make plays away from the traffic areas is very reminiscent of what Wayne used to do."

Of course, Bennett is not Wayne Gretzky. Yes, he did grow up in Gardena, Calif. LA, but was four years old when Gretzky left the Kings.

"I actually started in roller hockey because my brother wanted to play," Bennett recalled of his hockey beginnings. "I never really watched a lot of hockey as a young kid. I didn't get into ice (hockey) until I was about eight, then I started to watch the Kings and the Ducks.

Bennett models himself after a younger star in the L.A. area, Bobby Ryan of the Anaheim Ducks. Which is fine, because his new coach doesn't expect him to be Gretzky.

"I would love if he could be the next Wayne Gretzky, are you kidding me?" George Gwozdecky joked, when told of Harbinson's lofty praise. "I understand when people (make comparisons like) that they have the best of intentions. But it's so difficult, it's not fair.

"Whether it's 99, or [Mario] Lemieux, the perception you give by saying something like that is really unfair. I'm not saying that he's wrong. I'm saying, boy oh boy, do you know the kind of player you have to be to be even remotely the same category as Wayne Gretzky?"

Gwozdecky does expect Bennett to be an offensive contributor to a team that is losing six seniors and three NHL signings. Rhett Rakhshani and Joe Colborne, among others, leave big holes up front.

"To be as successful as Beau was in his rookie year in the B.C. League, you have to have certain things that allow you to be successful -- great vision, great hands, a knack for knowing when to make plays," said Gwozdecky, whose other top recruits include Nick Shore and Jason Zucker, both products of USA Hockey's National Team Development Program.

"He certainly has all those as part of his skill set in his package. We'll see how that translates to the next level,"

NHL Central Scouting ranks Bennett the 32nd-best prospect in North America for the upcoming draft, but some scouts say he could be taken late in the first round. With the draft in Los Angeles, Bennett is looking forward to hearing his name called, but his immediate focus is on getting ready to contribute for the Pioneers.

"I think I'll hopefully make an impact coming in," said Bennett, listed at 6-1, 180 pounds with Penticton. "I've been working out and gaining some weight.

"Hopefully I'll go in with some really good freshmen like Zucker and Nick Shore, make an impact from the get-go, and hopefully we'll win a national championship while we're there."

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