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A home-grown winger…finally?

Beau Bennett has impressed in 11 games with the Penguins. (Photo by Joe Sargent/NHLI via Getty Images)

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Beau Bennett has impressed in 11 games with the Penguins. (Photo by Joe Sargent/NHLI via Getty Images)

Well, that only took eight years.

That's how long fantasy hockey analysts (ahem, me) have been preaching that poolies should pick up this prospect and that prospect, simply based on the fact that they belong to the Pittsburgh organization. Why? Because Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin have to pass the puck to somebody. Two wingers each, to be precise.

The logic is sound, but seeing it work that way is an entirely different matter. Let's look at some of the candidates, in order of their draft year:

Michel Ouellet (124th overall in 2000): After making a huge splash with 16 points in his first 13 games and suckering all of us poolies into grabbing him quickly, he fizzled out. He had a career high of 48 points, but never built on that. Very inconsistent.

Colby Armstrong (21st overall in 2001): Although he was pegged as a checking-line forward with a bit of upside, he made a huge splash in the fantasy hockey world when he tallied 38 points in his last 39 games as a rookie playing with Crosby. It went downhill from there. Some checking-type players can become scorers…and, obviously, some can't.

Tomas Surovy (120th overall in 2001): All speed and no hands. He had a chance or two on the big line, but never converted.

Maxime Talbot (234th overall in 2002): A checking center who once had 104 points in the Quebec League. Poolies had visions of him being converted to the wing, but as we now know his best NHL fit is that of a checking center.

Erik Christensen (69th overall in 2002): Another pivot, but this time Christensen did an OK job after being converted to the wing. But much like Ouellet, inconsistency killed his production.

Jonathan Filewich (70th overall in 2003): If only the Penguins hung onto the guy they chose 263rd in this draft. A fellow by the name of Matt Moulson. Heard of him? Anyway, Filewich was a middling scorer in junior and again in the American League. But that wouldn’t have mattered if he’d clicked with a Malkin. In the end, though, he never really got an opportunity. He couldn't get his game to a good enough level playing in the AHL.

Ryan Stone (32nd overall in 2003): Another defensive center similar to Talbot. But with 99 points for Brandon of the Western League in 2005, there was hope. He also provided grit and sandpaper, which may have worked. But in a six-game trial (and the next year he was given another two-game stint) with the Pens he didn't show enough.

Tyler Kennedy (99th overall in 2004): To this day, Kennedy is still a 'stop gap solution' for one of the big lines if someone goes down with an injury. But he's best suited on the third line. He's had his chances and really just can't keep up.

Jordan Staal (second overall in 2006): The problem with this candidate is that he was too good. Far too good as a third-line center, providing second-line points while being possibly the best third-line checking center in hockey. He was moved to the wing to play with Malkin…and Malkin was moved to the wing to play with Staal. And maybe they would have eventually made that work. But injuries cut into his last two seasons in Pittsburgh and then he was traded to Carolina.

Luca Caputi (111th overall in 2007): This pick had a lot of potential. After his 111-point season in the Ontario League, he put up decent points in the AHL and during two NHL trials he did not look out of place. But he was traded to Toronto for Alexei Ponikarovsky. Injuries eventually eroded his skills and development. Now, just staying in the AHL is a challenge.

Dustin Jeffrey (171st overall in 2007): Jeffrey exceeded expectations in every season since being drafted late. He dominated the OHL offensively and he quickly became a point-per-game player in the AHL. But he couldn't play the wing for beans, really struggling when moved out of position. Throw in a couple of ill-timed injuries and he's now best-suited as a third-line center.

Eric Tangradi (Drafted by Anaheim): Granted, he's not "home-grown" per se, Tangradi was acquired (along with Chris Kunitz) for Ryan Whitney with the belief he would eventually be a winger with Malkin or Crosby. You can't say they didn't try. Tangradi had at least 5 games this year in which he was given plenty of time on the Malkin line. Plenty. And he produced zilch.

Although Tangradi was traded to Winnipeg for a lowly seventh round draft pick, the trade with Anaheim was an important one in what it said to poolies. It said that the Penguins were adept at drafting and developing defensemen, but not good at doing the same with forwards. It said that because they have so many blue-chip defensemen, they would probably be solving their future "winger" problems by trading defensemen to land an established one. Think about it:

Ryan Whitney to Anaheim for Chris Kunitz and Eric Tangradi – they pick up a winger to play with Crosby immediately and then develop a winger (Tangradi) for later. Or so was the thinking at the time.

Alex Goligoski to Dallas for James Neal and Matt Niskanen – we know how this one turned out. Neal is now one of the most coveted players in fantasy hockey.

It's time for poolies to give up on the strategy of picking up a Penguins forward prospect in hopes that his production will be inflated at the NHL level when he plays with Malkin or Crosby, right? After all, that's a pretty long list of busts and I didn't even get into Keven Veilleux, Casey Pierro-Zabotel, Nick Petersen or Nick Johnson. And it's clear that if they need a winger, they'll just trade for one. Right?

Not so fast.

Enter Beau Bennett. (And that concludes what is probably my longest introduction to any column I've ever written.)

Although Bennett has just five points in 11 games on the season, all five of them have come in the past seven games. And credit for a goal on Saturday, originally his, was given to Paul Martin after the game. The California native is showing success early on while playing with Malkin and Neal.

I haven't forgotten about Ouellet or Armstrong – the only two Penguins prospects to show this kind of success right away (but later flopped). Here is why "this time" things are different…

1. Draft spot
2. Position
3. Skill set
4. Opportunity

For the first time, the Penguins drafted an offensively talented winger high in the draft. Not a middle or late rounder – a first rounder. Not a checking winger or skilled center that needs to be forced into a different role like a square peg into a round hole, but a skilled winger. And this isn't one of those occasions where he's toiling on the fourth line for six minutes per game until he's sent down. No, there's actually a spot available on the second line (or Line 1B) and Bennett is getting a fair look there.

Furthermore, he's only 21 years old. He doesn't have to succeed now. If he falters, he'll get another shot next year. If he falters next year, he'll get his look in 2015. Plenty of time and little pressure.

But from what we've seen of him in 11 games, he's a shoe-in to become a full-timer next season (assuming he's not already there) and 40 points is a good, conservative bet. But I want to go out on a limb here – I think he gives 70 points a good run for its money (barring injury). I wouldn't draft him accordingly. Nor would I trade for him accordingly. Why would I do that, when he is still so unproven that he could be acquired as just a promising prospect? I won't overpay. But I will make sure I get him in my keeper league and cautiously hope for something special in the same way that James Neal did last year. Too much to expect too soon? Maybe, but I'm an optimistic guy.

Darryl Dobbs’ Fantasy Pool Look is an in-depth presentation of player trends, injuries and much more as it pertains to rotisserie pool leagues. Also, get the top 300 roto-player rankings on the first of every month in THN’s Fantasy section. Do you have a question about fantasy hockey? Send it to the Fantasy Mailbag.

Want more fantasy insider information or to contact The Dobber? Check out dobberhockey.com or follow him on Twitter at @DobberHockey.

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