2015-16 Reasonable Expecations: Sam Bennett

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?

EXPECTATIONS

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
What we have is two stories … players forced into a top six role immediately (Galchenyuk, RNH and Huberdeau) and players used in bottom six roles their first year (Couturier, Seguin and E. Kane).  I would assume Bennett will be used as sort of a hybrid of top six and bottom six. Therefore, it seems very likely that we can expect slightly more scoring than the bottom six group above but not quite as much as top 6 group.

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.  

  • Treliving hinted that they wouldn’t use Bennett on a defense-first line, so I doubt he plays with Backlund.
    Also, both Hartley and Tre have said they want him to start at center. Again, that likely leaves him away from Backlund.

    The best choice for a winger would be Frolik, who can provide that vet support, and help the line maintain possession. If it is Frolik, he will likely play more than 12 minutes a game. Likewise, Hartley wants to exploit Frolik’s offense, so you could see a lot more O-zone starts for that pair.

  • First Name Unidentified

    I don’t think he will be deployed in DZone situations a lot. Like Monahan was in his rookie year, he will be quite sheltered and will be given easier starts at least for the first 3rd of the season. Hence we have Backlund, Frolik, etc playing the tough minutes and the support players in a checking role (Colbourne, Jones, Bouma, Byron, etc).

    Heck, i think Backlund will have a break-out year more than anybody else. He’s been waiting to play along side a winger like Frolik and the two together can cause a lot of damage on the ice.

    Having said all of this, I also think there is good probability Bennett starts as a C but then is shifted to the wing until such a time he’s comfortable with and without the puck.

  • First Name Unidentified

    Really hope he’s getting plenty of neutral zone starts. His single most valuable skill is his zone entries, so burying him in the O-zone would be a mistake.

  • beloch

    Backlund has yet to play a full season, so it’s fairly safe to assume he’ll miss some games this season too. When he does go down, Monahan is likely the guy to take over the shut-down minutes. When this happens, Bennett is probably going to be the lucky guy who gets to center Gaudreau and Hudler. I wouldn’t be surprised if Hartley tries him out on that line earlier on too, likely in one of those games where things are going poorly and the line blender comes out. I can also see Gaudreau getting double shifted occasionally, so he can play with Bennett some of the time even when he’s still with Monahan and Hudler.

    Monahan is a stud, but Bennett’s junior production puts Monahan’s to shame. Bennett is probably going to challenge Monahan for the #1C scoring line role sooner or later. I expect both these players to give Hartley heaps of trouble (of the good kind) deciding who to stick with Hudler and Gaudreau.

  • Captain Ron

    Our center depth is exceptionally good right now. Moving forward when Monahan and Bennett have matured a little more look out. The future’s so bright we’re gonna need shades.

    Combine that with how the defense is shaping up and we are looking good. REALLY REALLY GOOD!

  • The Fall

    May be time to stop thinking about 2nd line 3rd line paradigms. This is going to be a top 3, middle 6, bottom 3 forward group.

    Backs’ line will get D-zone starts
    Sam’s line will get O-zone starts.

  • Burnward

    As I recall, Johnny’s was only two points off his NHLE so this is a good ballpark.

    I think McDavid’s NHLE is 65?

    I’m going to put Bennett slightly higher, at 50, if he can get some ice time with Gaudreau, they did click in the pre-season last year.

      • Train#97

        Yeah, don’t discount Byron…need him in the 3 on 3 with his speed…Raymond, on the other hand, is a lost cause…I can’t ever see him buying into rushing the net philosophy.

        I agree with the lines:

        Gaudreau – Monahan – Hudler;
        Ferland – Bennett – Frolik;
        Bouma – Backlund – Jones;
        Jooris – Stajan – Colborne

        Byron, Shore/Bollig as extras.

        That leaves out Raymond. If TOs 3 PTOs don’t pan out, maybe we can get a 5th round draft pick from the Leafs for Raymond.

          • Train#97

            I agree that he has to earn his spot…which will be more difficult this year than last with the emergence of Ferland – a tough son-of-a-gun – and the need to insert Bennett into the lineup…Just too many players that play the style that coach and management want the Flames to play that are now ahead of him in the depth chart.

  • BurningSensation

    I’d keep Hudreaunahan together, put Byron, and Frolik with Backlund on a ‘hard minutes’ line, and run Bennett with Joorish and Ferland as a ‘kid line’, with cherry zone starts.

    That leaves Stajan, Colborne and Jones as a utility knife unit that can sub in for either of the Monahan or Backlund units as needed.

    As with any plan, it will change upon contact with the enemy

      • The Last Big Bear

        The Flames have 9 NHL players who have scored at least 15 goals in the NHL, and they’re all young enough to do it again.

        On top of that they have Bennett, Ferland, Byron, Granlund, Jooris, Shore, and Colborne to fit in.

        It’s not exactly a Candian Olympic level of FWD group, but no matter how you arrange those names, you’re leaving out multiple NHL calibre players.

        One option might be to throw in one of these guys to get another team to take on Smid or Enfelland’s contract.

  • BurningSensation

    I’d like see at some point Hudler playing with Bennett as centre.

    It a)gives Gaudreau and Monahan more responsibility to create their own offense; b) allows Sam the benefit of playing with a high-skilled wing who can mentor him like he did with the other two and c) allows Backlund and Frolik to play together in a super two-way line. Uses the Team Canada approach of playing duos and rotating the third guy based on fit and circumstance.

  • RedMan

    Bennett’s going to get 130 points, win the calder (which will be retired after he wins it) and then win 9 cups in the next 8 years, and finally run for president of the world.

    Oh wait, sorry, this is Flames Nation, not Oilers Nation, my bad. I got all Oiler nation’ed up there for a second.

    • Train#97

      130 points?! That’s almost as bad as when someone said they expect 50 goals out of monahan next year. Just for the record, I don’t think anyone in Edmonton is expecting 130 points, haha.

      • Captain Ron

        His NHLE is 42.

        Your precious Connor McDavid`s is 52.

        A reasonable expectation is Sam will be in the 40 – 50 point range.

        McDavid in the 50 – 60 point range.

      • Train#97

        Hey Train….go to Puck Daddy and read Ryan Lambert’s trashing of the Oilers and their need to protect McJesus!

        Bennett will have more points than McJesus!

        • Train#97

          If he can’t do much against young guys in a prospects tournament and not put up a point I don’t think you can expect too much out of Bennett this year. I don’t even hate Bennett, I hope he has a good career. But, to say he’s even somewhat on Connor McDavids level is pretty questionable.

        • Cfan in Vic

          Bennett got most of his points in junior last year against the bottom 4 teams in their conference! Two teams out of the playoffs & the 7th & 8th place team. The non playoff teams had 15 & 16 yr olds in the line ups. Interesting to see what happens this year with all the hype around him.

  • MattyFranchise

    Not something I expect to see from the start, but given Bob and BTs preference to have a) Bennett play center, b) play a top 9 more than 6, c) and look for chemistry pairs more than lines I wonder about Jonny Bennett Hudler line.
    Not so much a first line but the offensive starts you want for both Jonny and Sam, and keeps the Jonny Huds pair. Not looking to replace Monny but the starts you want for Bennett seem to be in the Jonny Huds wheel house.
    Now what to do with Monny? I really do expect to see Frolik skate with him at some time and it could be two thirds of a good line capable of putting up points in tough situations. Who makes up the third is a question tough to answer, but if Ferland shows some filthy mits to go with his sledge hammer… I smile just thinking about it. Not expecting it though.
    So that allows Backlund and Byron as two thirds of a tough zone start line that could be very effective. I don’t think of Byron as top six, but he does drive possession, so he could be a very functional top nine. So what do we end up with?

    Monny Frolik +1, Jonny Bennett Huds, Byron Backlund +1 and fourth line (Stajan). Lots of room for competition from the fourth line. Bouma Jones Jooris Colborne

    Again not something I see right from the start, but depending on chemistry and internal growth I could see it happening.

    • Cfan in Vic

      I would want the Flames to avoid putting Bennett out in Power vs Power situations, and I’m fairly certain that kind of matchup would follow Gaudreau and Hudler more than it would Monahan, if the two wingers stay together.

      Besides, there really isn’t any reason to think Bennett can’t get offensive draws without playing with Gaudreau and Hudler. The defensive starts go to Backlund and Stajan, and Monahan and company are likely closer to even, which means Hartley can give Bennett as much high ground as he likes.

      Also, the Flames have said they want Frolik playing in a more offensive role than he has been. In my mind that implies they intend for him to play with Bennett.

  • MattyFranchise

    40-45 points for Bennett seems reasonable this season given where he will play. I expect a sophomore season in the 60-65 range.

    Oilers fans getting all excited in September and basing projections on a three-game prospect tourny – some things never change. Sam proved he can hang in the Stanley cup playoffs (remember that Edmonton?) as a rusty 18-year old. To say two games in penticton offsets that is ridiculous even coming out of a mouth of an insecure Oilers fan.

        • Cfan in Vic

          Those guys contribute to useful conversation on this sight. Whatever they do on ON (or any other site) is not the responsibility of FN. It is, however, the responsibility of FN to try and cut out the crap on it’s own thread in order to make it enjoyable to read.

          I’m sick of the “but so and so trolls on ON, so here we are ganging up to fill FN with garbage”. I don’t give a damn what happens over there, I don’t read it. There was an apparent initiative to clean up THIS sight, and if that promise comes through, it will surely make this place more enjoyable for the reader.

          • Cfan in Vic

            Some people are fans of all Canadian hockey teams(usually with a preference for one in particular).
            My point is, if the mod’s can clean up this site they can clean up the other sites as well.
            Whether you “give a damn” or not, the valued contributors from your site are the cause of what is ruining your enjoyment.

  • Cfan in Vic

    Bennett will get eased in this year as the #3 Center the same way Monahan was, Treliving basically confirmed this in his interview with Bob Mckenzie.

    100% agree with this more patient approach to his development, insulate him with our vets in his first full season. If his play warrants it you move him up in the lineup later this year or next year.

  • Cfan in Vic

    Incorrect. The mod of this sight does not moderate ON. The mod of FN set some rule to keep things from getting unreadably annoying. Those rules didn’t make it to ON. As soon as those are enforced, this will be a better place to share on-topic thoughts about the flames

    • Cfan in Vic

      Okay, now I understand.
      We can dish it out , but we can’t take it.
      Enjoy your team this year, I am sure you will have nothing but positive comments to read at FN.