Sam Bennett, the Flames’ highest draft pick since moving from Atlanta to Calgary, has been cleared for contact and is practicing with the Flames. To put it lightly, Bennett’s NHL debut is eagerly anticipated by Flames fans. The big question everyone is asking is, “Is he ready?” and, if he is ready, “What should the Flames do with him?”.
“…we’re nearing that time (to make a decision). It’s not today. It’s not a
month from now. But it’s somewhere in the next little while.”
The official Flames position, straight from Treliving, is that a decision on Bennett is imminent. Treliving’s evasiveness on the issue may be due to Bennett’s own reported eagerness to play. Remember, this is a kid who played a significant portion of his pre-draft season injured. Bennett has more drive than is probably healthy! While it’s likely that the ordeal of surgery and missing most of the season has taught Bennett to take better care of his body, his judgment is still somewhat suspect. I wouldn’t be surprised if Treliving listens more to Bennett’s doctors than Bennett himself. The fact that Bennett has been cleared for contact does suggest that Bennett’s doctors have given him a clean bill of health.
Before immediately banishing Bennett back to the OHL, it’s worth taking a moment to compare Bennett to the most recent Flames rookie to make it to the NHL in his 18-year-old season: Sean Monahan. In their final pre-draft seasons, Bennett produced points at a pace of 1.60 ppg while Monahan produced 1.35 ppg. Bennett was a full year and a half younger than Monahan when he did this, and played with an injured shoulder for part of that season. As good as Monahan has been, there’s every reason to believe Bennett could be better. Much better. Even though Bennett is still a year younger than Monahan was when he made his NHL debut, there’s the distinct possibility that Bennett could make an immediate impact, especially given how close the playoff race could be this season.
For a player Bennett’s age there would, normally, be only two options: the NHL or the OHL. However, Bennett’s injury opens up the option of sending him to Adirondack for a conditioning stint of no more than two weeks. If you were Brad Treliving, where would Bennett play his first hockey game of the year?
The Kingston Frontenacs are struggling at present and Bennett would likely be given as much ice time as he can stand immediately if sent there. The competition might be easy, but Bennett would be blasting more slappers per night than anywhere else! Also, let’s not forget that the Frontenacs let him play injured last season. Are they to be trusted now? In Adirondack, at least, the Flames have staff to keep a closer eye on Bennett, but that assignment would necessarily be a temporary one. After two weeks Bennett must return to the NHL or report to the OHL. The final option is to start Bennett in the NHL with easy minutes. He can be sent elsewhere if he’s not ready, but is the possible payoff of having a NHL ready centre of Bennett’s talent down the homestretch worth the risk of blowing a couple of key games if he’s not?