On July 1, the St. Louis Blues signed Beau Bennett to a one year deal. The injury prone Bennett wasn’t the most sought after free agent; but St. Louis fans seem to be excited about the signing. The argument is that the right winger will add a lot of strength to the Blues bottom six. While he does add depth, it’s not at the level of what most people are hoping. Instead, he’s likely to be one of the AHL’s best players this season.
For St. Louis Blues, Beau Bennett is the New and Improved Kenny Agostino
With the Pittsburgh Penguins and New Jersey Devils, Bennett was relied upon as a bottom six forward. With Pittsburgh, he struggled with injuries and didn’t manage to play more than 49 games. He played a fraction more during his one year stint in New Jersey, but still missed more games than ideal. Throughout five NHL seasons, Bennett has only seen 194 games. That averages out to just under 39 per season. For a player who went 20th overall in the 2010 NHL Draft, that’s far more than inadequate. To compare, Bennett was selected five picks before Evgeny Kuznetsov, who has recorded 182 points in three full seasons. This included a 77-point season in 2015-16.
The main reason Bennett has stayed in the NHL for the majority of his career is that injured players can’t be put through waivers. If he would’ve stayed healthy, it’s likely he would’ve seen plenty of AHL games by now. At 25 years old, it’s starting to get too late to mold him into an efficient NHL player. What he’s needed since his draft date is time in the AHL to mature.
Before making his NHL debut, Bennett played 39 AHL games. With 28 points in those games, he proved himself as a top AHL forward. It’s normal for teams to reward that level of production with NHL games, and that’s exactly what the Penguins did. Bennett moved up and played 26 NHL games, and had a decent 14 points. Then he faced his first major injury and missed the remainder of the season. The following year, he got 21 more games. He didn’t make much out of them though, and fans started losing hope.
At this point, it would’ve been best to let Bennett return to the AHL without waiver worry with a two-way contract versus one-way deal if he remains healthy through training camp. His injuries and high hopes kept him in the big leagues though, so the Blues thought it as worth the risk of a one-way deal. Now, Bennett has to make up for the lost time. The Chicago Wolves, the Blues’ AHL affiliate, has lost their top forward to the Boston Bruins. Agostino, who lead the AHL in points and won the MVP, signed a one-year deal with Boston in mid-July. This leaves the top wing spot in the AHL open. While players like Wade Megan will surely get more ice time, Bennett fills Agostino’s spot perfectly, but the waiver issue still stands as the hurdle to him getting there without being picked up by another team.
In the AHL, Agostino was the leader of the team. While he wasn’t a captain for the team, he lead by example. His dominated the league with 83 points in only 65 games. He was also a realiable player to lean on when the Blues faced multiple injuries at once. When Dmitrij Jaskin, Jori Lehtera, and Paul Stastny were all hurt; Agostino was called up. In seven games, he had three points. While he didn’t light up the scoreboard, he was a reliable fourth line player until the Blues were healthier. This is the exact role that Bennett will fill. His prior NHL experience, especially with such a strong team like Pittsburgh, makes him even better for the role.
Aside from his lack of production, the problem is that Bennett doesn’t have enough potential to top the list of deserving forwards. Oskar Sundqvist, Ivan Barbashev, and Zachary Sanford will all likely fight for any roster spot that Bennett could take. Patrik Berglund will need one when he returns from his injury, and Chris Thorburn will see scattered ice time. Throwing a sixth player into the mix would complicate things even more. Out of the list, Bennett is the most expendable asset. At this stage in his career, a season of being an AHL anchor would help more than a season of little ice time in the NHL.
Bennett will likely see a handful of NHL games, similar to Agostino. No season is flawless, and the Blues will have some decisions to make when dealing with injuries. Luckily for Gardena native, he’ll likely sit at the top of the list when it comes to players to call up. At least at the beginning of the year. If Tage Thompson or Klim Kostin have solid campaigns, they could very easily find themselves filling in for injured players in the latter half of the year.
Even if this is the case, Bennett is still a valuable asset to the Blues. In the worst case scenario, he provides a lot strength to the Blues AHL team. Like general manager Doug Armstrong said in a July 1 interview, the Chicago Wolves have little to no NHL experience. Having a player like Bennett with the team is very reassuring. In this upcoming season, Bennett will very likely be heavily relied upon by the Wolves. If he is able to carry as much weight as Agostino did last season he’ll have no problem attracting interest when he’s a free agent again next season.