Sam Bennett is the highest drafted player in Flames history and the organizations current unequivocal best prospect. His draft +1 year was mostly used to rehab a bum shoulder but it also featured a short dominating stint back in the OHL with Kingston Frontenacs and a modest playoff run with the Flames. This year he will most certainly be a lock to make the big club and become a full-time NHLer.
Sam Bennett was the 4th overall draft pick of the 2014 draft however was ranked by most experts as the best forward available. Likely because he was the smallest of three capable centers (Reinhart and Draisaitl), Bennett fell to 4th and the Flames were the benefactor of the best ranked forward of the draft. After putting up an impressive training camp with the Flames, Bennett nearly earned a spot on the Flames to start the season. That was until it became apparent to the medical staff and coaching staff that Bennett had a shoulder in bad shape. Surgery was performed on the shoulder, shutting down Bennett for roughly six months and essentially killing any hope that he would join the Flames for the 2014-15 season.
Bennett was near 100% around March and through his own tenacity and determination nearly demanded that the Flames add him to their active roster. They chose to send back to junior instead … Bennett reluctantly said “fine”, returned to Kingston and lit it up with 24 points in 11 games. After a brief playoff stint, having being swept by the North Bay Battalion, Bennett joined the Flames and played the final game of the Flames season (registering an assist less than a minute into the game). He then joined the Flames for their entire playoff run of 11 games, registering 4 points in 11 games.
The kid is good. That much is obvious. What can we expect from his 2015-16 season?
Bennett amassed 115 points in 68 games over the course of the last two years in the OHL, which gives him a combined NHLE of 42. Hitting an NHLE over 35 before turning 19 is most often the sign of an elite player. Look back through the players that were drafted in the past 10-15 years, nearly every superstar you can think of fits into this category. Pretty safe to assume that he will be a big time player at some point in the coming years. It may not be immediately but soon to be sure.
I would expect Bennett to play the majority of the season on Backlund’s wing, like he did in the playoffs, or play the 3C role. Given Hartley’s recent comments, it would appear that Bennett will start in the latter position. His NHLE would suggest he score around 40-45 points this year and I would assume that would be his max potential for the year. Let me explain why…
The first line is almost certainly locked in with Gaudreau, Monahan and Hudler, given it’s success last year, thus the most offensively-minded players will not be with Bennett. Bennett’s linemates will likely be a combination of Backlund, Frolik, Colborne, Ferland, Jone, Raymond and Bouma. None of those players have ever registered over 50 points in their careers, although Frolik and Jones have registered 40+ a few times. As well, if Bennett is with Backlund he will start in the defensive zone most often (thus not getting the Gaudreau treatment). If he centers the 3rd line, his ice-time will be 10-12 minutes a game and his linemates won’t be much for established offensive talent. In essence, the early emergence of Gaudreau and Monahan hampers Bennett’s opportunity to emerge as an immediate impact player. It will take a few years for him to demand a key role on the team.
Below is a list of recent draftees who scored similar to Bennett in the CHL (NHLE of 35 to 45) and how they performed in their first year in the NHL.
- Alex Galchenyuk – 46 points in 82 (assumed from shortened season)
- RNH – 52 points in 67 games
- Jonathan Huberdeau – 52 points in 82 (assumed from shortened season)
- Sean Couturier – 27 points in 77 games
- Tyler Seguin – 22 points in 77 games
- Evander Kane – 26 points in 66 games
I would expect, based on his talent and how he will be used. that he registers 30-40 points (15-20 goals and 15-20 assists). I would also expect that he’ll get a lot of time on the 2nd powerplay and the occasional stint with the Gaudreaus, Monahans and Giordanos on the 1st unit when they need a spark. Given his tenacity, two-way play and speed he’ll probably be used quite prevalently on the penalty kill as well. Finally, he plays with an edge and often goes over the edge. He won’t make it half the season without getting a penalty like Gaudreau did … he might not even make it a game. He’ll probably take a lot more penalties than we hope in his first few years as he gets comfortable with the league. It’s part of his game and might get him into a little trouble early on.