Beau Bennett will soon have an incentive that he's never had in his hockey career: the chance to play in the NHL.
Now that the NHL is expected to get back to work in the near future, several Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins will likely be invited to Pittsburgh's abbreviated training camp with a chance to make the big club.
Just 28 games into his first pro season, Bennett figures to be one of those players to get a look.
The opportunity would be great and you definitely want to make the most of it, he said after an early morning practice at the Mohegan Sun Arena on Tuesday.
But for the time-being the focus is on the present, here at Wilkes-Barre.
Eric Tangradi – another Penguin expected to get a chance with Pittsburgh – said the prospect of an NHL shot provides players with a major incentive.
It really gives an eye-opening experience to guys in the dressing room when they know there's another level beyond here. It's something to strive for, he said.
The way Robert Bortuzzo sees it, if he is invited to Pittsburgh's training camp he already has an advantage having played in 26 AHL games this season, in addition to practicing almost daily.
If I am privileged enough to be at training camp, I'm fortunate having played games and gone through practices. If I am there, that's a luxury I already had, Bortuzzo said. I feel like everyone knew this lockout would end eventually, so everyone was still working toward getting there.
Now that it's here, that extra drive is going to help.
Head coach John Hynes scratched Bennett, Bortuzzo and Tangradi for Sunday's game against Connecticut hours after news that a tentative deal to end the lockout had been reached.
On Tuesday, Hynes said the move was more coincidental and one that was made to give the three players a day to rest.
We were in a three-in-three and those guys played a lot of hockey. They'll all probably be back in the lineup tonight.
As everyone in the organization awaits a training camp date, Hynes has been in touch with Pittsburgh to go over what will happen when things start up.
Once some dates are set, he said, then they'll discuss which players will go up. Hynes has also been in touch with Wheeling to discuss potential player movement up to Wilkes-Barre as well.
We've all been in contact about the ‘what-if' scenario, he said. There's nothing set in stone. We have an idea, but we haven't gotten into an in-depth discussion because things may change depending on when NHL training camp starts.
Still, Bennett said most if not all players in the AHL have been preparing for their NHL shot long before Sunday's news that a deal was reached.
We've been doing it for the last three months. You don't want to leave it to the last chance, Bennett said. You just put your time in and play the same way. You don't want to look any further than tomorrow and just worry about winning.
Winners always have a job in this game.
• When asked if he was prepared to play a role other than that of a top-line scoring winger if summoned to Pittsburgh, Bennett said it wouldn't be a problem.
You have to adjust to whatever situation you're in. All of Pittsburgh's forwards play a similar way and they're all required to do the same defensive responsibilities. Staying within your boundaries is the biggest thing, he said.
• Defenseman Brian Strait said waivers could be responsible for an immediate impact to some AHL rosters. The Penguins have six players – Strait, Tangradi, Bortuzzo, Steve MacIntyre, Jeff Zatkoff and Brad Thiessen – who are on AHL lockout deals that will expire when the new NHL deal is ratified.
A lot of guys may go on waivers and a few guys might end up changing teams – going up there and getting picked up, Strait said. We're not sure what's going to happen.
• During the lockout the AHL was the top league in North America, and it showed on the ice, Bortuzzo said.
It was a high level of hockey every night. There were no easy games, he said. With some of the trickledown effect (with NHL players coming to the AHL) every night, it was a battle. A lot of skilled forwards and depth on every team. It definitely didn't hurt anyone.
• With no chance of a call-up during the lockout, Hynes said the first three-plus months of the AHL season were unlike any other.
This season so far has been an abnormality from the fact there have been no call-ups or send downs, Hynes said. Everyone's roster was similar, besides injuries.