The Calgary Flames finally returned Sam Bennett to his junior club, the Ontario Hockey League’s Kingston Frontenacs. The announcement was made this morning and followed by a media availability both with Bennett and Flames general manager Brad Treliving.
Here’s the gist of what happened and the decision-making regarding Bennett’s assignment.
WAS BENNETT GOOD ENOUGH TO PLAY IN THE NHL RIGHT NOW?
Per Treliving: “Do I think he could play? Sure. Is it the right thing to do? No, it’s not.”
Bennett’s last game was a pre-season game in late September and his last meaningful game was last April. Throwing him into the proverbial oven, with the expectations that come with his draft stature and the team’s play to this point, wouldn’t have been a smart move. Teams are going at full-speed right now and throwing Bennett into it would be stacking the deck against him a bit.
Per Treliving: “He’s going to go back to Kingston and play
a ton, in all situations, in a playoff push, a team that’s in a
playoff push. It just made sense.”
THE SEASON’S NOT A LOSS, THOUGH
Bennett will probably get a dozen or so games in before the OHL regular season is over. But he has also spent the bulk of the season with Calgary’s coaching staff, strength and conditioning personnel, and the NHL club itself. When camp opens up in the fall, he’ll be 19 years of age – and a young 19 – and have spent essentially a full season in meetings, working with video coaches and learning systems.
Long story short: he’ll be 19, but a healthy 19, and with his brain jam-packed full of knowledge of his teammates tendencies and his coach’s habits and systems. That’s pretty invaluable. (Think about how much Lance Bouma improved from a year spent rehabbing an injury in Calgary and pouring over video.)
Granted, not as invaluable as playing a full season at 18/19 years of age…
WAS AN AHL CONDITIONING STINT CONSIDERED?
Yes, but Treliving noted a similar concern as regarding throwing him into the NHL. The AHL’s arguably the second-best league in the world, and it’s February and teams are at high-speed and fighting for playoff spots. As with the NHL, the perception was basically it’d be throwing him into the deep end of the pool.
Plus, Treliving noted they wanted Bennett to get comfortable, rather than have him sit in Calgary, then play two weeks in Adirondack, then come back, then go to Kingston. It was deemed best for him to get a good amount of time in one spot rather than taxing him around here and there.
CAN HE COME BACK THIS SEASON?
Yes, but only once Kingston’s season is over. He’s eligible to return to Calgary as a black ace, and my understanding is his contract would only run if he played in 10 regular season and playoff games (combined). He could also be assigned to Adirondack, though I’m unclear if he’d necessarily need to be there on a try-out or if his regular deal would apply. I believe Morgan Klimchuk and Brett Kulak were down in Abbotsford on amateur try-outs (ATOs) previously last season, so I think that would happen here.
IS THIS THE RIGHT MOVE?
Honestly, it probably is. Sean Monahan was able to step in right away and contribute as an 18-year-old, but he was also heavily sheltered, relied on good teammates and match-ups, and had the benefit that he was figuring out the NHL style of play in October, when the rest of the league was doing the exact same thing. Oh, and Monahan was nearly a year older and wasn’t coming off major surgery.
Bennett? His ability to be sheltered would be diminished considering the Flames play the bulk of their remaining games on the road. Oh, and they’re already attempting to shelter Johnny Gaudreau and, to a certain extent, the Glencross/Raymond (and whoever’s their center from game to game) line. Oh, and it’s February and the bulk of Calgary’s opponents are in playoff spots or fighting for them. And every team in the hunt has more or less figured out the nuances of their games by now.
A lot would have to go right for Bennett to have had a successful end to the season had he stayed in the NHL. And much of what would have to go right wouldn’t have been in Calgary’s control.
WHEN’S HE PLAYING NEXT?
Most likely on Wednesday versus Belleville. Bennett’s traveling today and Treliving indicated he’d been in conversation with Kingston and the basic idea was to give Bennett time to adjust, and then put him in after the weekend.
THE QUOTABLE BRAD TRELIVING
“We’re talking about a young player, we’re
talking at the end of February, who’s missed a whole lot of time, who
is a real talent and is a really, really important player for this
organization moving forward and we feel you take all the emotion out
of it and just what makes sense? What’s smart? What is the best thing
for the player?”