Sam Bennett is fine

rihana

What’s going on with Sam Bennett? That’s one of the most frequent questions I’ve gotten on my positive, optimistic postgame call-in show Overtime these days. For the most part, I understand the inquiry. Bennett remains Calgary’s highest ever draft pick and the expectations got raised even more after his playoff performance last season. With just one point in eight game, some would argue Bennett has been underwhelming in his first full NHL season. I’m here to tell you, though, that Bennett is doing just fine.

I’m really not putting a lot of weight in Bennett’s offensive totals this season. At this stage I want to see two things from Bennett. First, as a 19-year-old forward, I want to see him take steps and progress in his first year in the league. Second, I want Bennett to be used in a role where he can be a useful player and help the team. It’s still October, so it’s too early to talk about or track the former. The latter, however, has actually been accomplished to this point.

Bennett isn’t being used in an offensive role at all right now. He’s played further down the depth chart either as a centre or a winger and has been given far more defensive responsibility than most players his age would see. For instance, his 44.7% offensive zone start ratio is the sixth lowest on the team among forwards. While he hasn’t always gone head to head with top opposition players, he has seen plenty of heavies on the other side, specifically on nights when he’s played with either Mikael Backlund or Michael Frolik.

So what does this tell us? Mostly it’s an indication of a coaching staff more than comfortable playing a rookie in fairly tough situations. There aren’t a lot of other rookies seeing defensive responsibility like Bennett right now. As a point of comparison, look at the zone start ratios for other big name rookies like Connor McDavid (58.1%), Dylan Larkin (56.4%), and Oscar Lindberg (68.1%). Most rookie forwards are well served to see more sheltered, offensively tailored minutes. Bennett hasn’t gotten that same treatment, and yet he’s still been effective.

Maybe the most telling comparison for Bennett is his Calgary teammate Sean Monahan. Both players are high picks and we’re expecting the pair to be the team’s top two centres for years to come. Monahan had nine points in his first eight NHL games while Bennett has just the one in his first eight games this season. But as you’ll see below, the two players were used in stark contrast to one another.

As you can see, my table game is improving. As you can also see, Bennett has similar possession numbers in his first eight games this year as Monahan did in his first eight games of 2013-2014. The difference is Monahan was given the offensive high ground early in his rookie year while Bennett has seen far more defensive responsibility. It’s not a perfect comparison because Bennett played postseason games last year, but it still paints an interesting picture.

Mony Bennett

Bennett’s possession numbers are actually slightly better than Monahan’s were at the same stage in his first season. In fact, Bennett’s Corsi rating puts him fifth on the Flames among forwards right now despite the more defensively skewed role.

So why is Bennett being used so differently early on this season? It really comes down to Calgary’s depth at forward and their faith in Bennett. In Monahan’s rookie season, the Flames didn’t have, like, anyone to count on offensively. That’s different this year, as the top line of Monahan, Johnny Gaudreau, and Jiri Hudler are the ones being given the offensively tailored minutes and there’s only so many of those to go around. Because Bennett doesn’t need them to be effective, it’s allowed the Flames to use him in a different role.

For me, Bennett’s case is most similar to Ryan O’Reilly’s rookie year in Colorado. As an 18-year-old second round pick, O’Reilly was hammered with defensive zone starts in his first couple years which saw his point totals suffer a little bit. But really good players adjust, progress, and eventually start producing in difficult two way roles.

O’Reilly didn’t break out offensively until his third year in the league when he put up 55 points after consecutive 26 point seasons. Bennett is a really good player, and I honestly am not worried about him not being a productive offensive player over the course of his career. But right now, as a rookie, he’s being asked to help the team in a different way. And he’s doing the job fairly well.

Even if you disagree with my assessment of Bennett’s play early on, he’s not going anywhere. Bennet is ineligible to play in the American Hockey League this season and it would make absolutely zero sense to return him to junior. Not only does Bennett belong in the NHL, but his entry level contract is already in year two.

I think the criticism Bennett is garnering in some circles early this season is off base. He’s been given a role, he’s played it well, and he has shown few if any signs of being over his head at the NHL level. It just so happens that his role isn’t one that is overly conducive to high point totals right now. That’s okay, because he’ll get there eventually and in the meantime, he can still help the team win.

  • Oil City Roller

    If getting cob for points and having no impact on winning games is fine by the Flames standards you guys will be making Oilers fans happy for years to come.

    • Oil City Roller

      How’s Draisaitl working out for ya?

      I’m starting to think the Flames should put Bennett and Gaudreau together.. Hartley has tried everything else.. why not?

      • Slowmo

        Draisaitl you mean the guy who is stuck behind a couple guys named Nugent-Hopkins and this kid called McDavid. Well…… he’s doing just fine DEVELOPING. Something that Oilers management failed to do for so long. Instead forcing young kids into prominent roles. Kind of refreshing TBH.

        As for Bennett he’ll be just fine. The kid is 19 yrs old. It’s a hard league for ten year vets let alone a KID. As an Oiler fan trust me when I say patience is a virtue when it comes to developing young talent. The kid is a gamer and I have no doubt he’ll be a big part of your team going forward.

    • Burnward

      The Oilers are putting all their eggs in one basket. As soon as McD starts to struggle, the Oilers record will start to falter. Whoops, I guess they would need a winning record to have anything to worry about.

      Win a few games against powerhouse teams, and we can start to have a conversation about effective players. Playing in the post season and having success is a good measuring stick for a young player. You will likely need a few more years to experience that.

  • Oil City Roller

    I love hearing excuses. sam is fragile. he got drafted high due to his offensive capabilities and not his defensive play. he should be developing his trade on the top 6 or down in the AHL as a top 6 player. 12 minutes a night and nights where he plays only 10 minutes is poor development. he is not being used in the proper role or his strengths. If hartley needs a defensive player on the 3rd line there are other players he can rely on. He will start to loose his confidence if he doesn’t get points which is what he is use too.This is poor asset management.

    • piscera.infada

      Yes and no. I think the fact that he’s been effective in a defensive role is somewhat of a revelation for Hartley. You’re correct, he needs to be put in a situation to succeed offensively, but short of putting him with Gaudreau and Hudler, he has been. The problem is, there isn’t a ton of that opportunity right now outside of those two.

      I personally, would love to try him with Gaudreau for a game, and give Monahan some minutes with Frolik and Hudler. Bennett has been creating offensive chances this year, he honestly just needs to break through.

      You’re secondary argument is moot though. He can’t go to the AHL, it’s only OHL or NHL, and he’s too good for the OHL right now–that won’t accomplish much of anything.

  • piscera.infada

    Pat, this is completely off-topic, but I listened to the overtime call-in show last night, and I don’t know how you do it. The sheer amount of vitriol and hyperbole being spewed. I would lose it. In fact I almost called in to lose it…

    Good work man. Godspeed on the Flames turning it around, so you don’t have to deal with that.

    Back to the point of the article, I agree on Bennett. The guy has been generating high-danger scoring chances for with regularity all season, just hasn’t tickled to twine yet. I feel like one of these days, the kid’s just going to explode. I also feel like he, like Hamilton, need to get back to feeling comfortable. I feel like this whole start has made every player on the team uncomfortable (as I guess it should), and that’s going to be doubly, or triply hard on young players who are newer to the team and organization. I feel for them.

  • Könniek

    This is also off topic, but I posted this in the last thread and it got swallowed up by the annoying Flames vs Oilers trolling.

    Just a thought, but the ducks are looking for a top six forward.

    What do you think the return for Hudler be? If the Flames could land a 1st round pick for him should they pull the trigger?

    Also, why not move Russell and/or Wideman now.. Brodie will return soon, and we can play Nakladal or Kulak if we need to?

    At this point, why not? Those could be a couple moves to really shake things up and if we strike when the iron is hot it could set us up for next season.

    Any thoughts?

    • piscera.infada

      I’d be looking at a Russell/Wideman deal right now, to be consummated when Brodie’s ready to come back–I actually assume this is what’s happening (Columbus, or the like).

      I think you want to keep Hudler and see if this downward spiral can be stopped. He still has the opportunity to be a catalyst for something positive here, and I think sending him out of the dressing room at this juncture (to a division rival, no less) would send a horrible message.

  • Mullen7

    I thought putting Frolik on the top line and then pairing Hudler and Bennett deserved a longer look. Hudler needs to be in a mentoring role in order to succeed himself.

    Whatever line combos Hartley decides on he needs to stick with them for a few games. It isn’t doing the chemistry any favors to shuffle so much. Let these guys play together through the adversity to the other side of it.

    Same goes with the goaltending. If he had given each goalie three to four starts in a row to prove themselves at the beginning of the year I think confidence levels would be higher and the crease would be much more settled by now.

  • That’s one of the most frequent questions I’ve gotten on my positive, optimistic postgame call-in show Overtime these days.

    PATTY I applaud the fact that you remain positive. Your call in show offers great amusement for anyone with a base level of intelligence or enjoys the dissociated suffering of the irrational. You do good work, especially given the recent content.

    • I mean…I’m staying positive to a point! They are awful right now and fully deserve to be 2-7, but some of the criticism has been a little off base. Specifically on Bennett, as he’s a rookie and is playing some pretty effective hockey right now.

  • RexLibris

    Further to the conversation re: Hamilton

    This rumour has surfaced recently.

    http://boston.cbslocal.com/2015/10/27/report-dougie-hamilton-refused-to-sign-with-bruins-after-team-refused-to-trade-for-brother/?cid=facebook_98.5_The_Sports_Hub

    The Bruins have been aggressive in using the media to question the character of players, specifically Hamilton, lately so I’d take this with a grain of salt.

    ——-

    As to Bennett, I don’t like those ZS%s, and they’re nearly even with Home/Away splits thus far in the season (5 home, 4 away), so Hartley controls the matchups.

    I’d be concerned with how Bennett is being developed by way of his linemates and the shelter provided both by ZS and Qualcomp.

    He’s playing middling competition to a draw shot-wise (QoC is -.13, CorsiRelQualComp is -.069, meaning that he is facing 2nd/3rd pairing opponents and even on the shots for and against).

    His sh% is 2.5% right now and bound to improve, but he (and frankly the rest of the team) aren’t getting any saves from the goaltenders (his on/ice sv% is .896).

    I would point to two noticeable areas of concern for Bennett right now that need to be addressed.

    The first is the ZS, he needs to be put in a position to score and affect the game in a way he best knows how – offensively.

    The second is he needs better linemates or a different mix. Relative to the quality of teammates with whom he is playing, Bennett is giving up far too many shots against (-3.535).

    An ideal place for him this year would be the AHL, but as that isn’t available, I think I would just communicate to Hockey Canada that should they be interested he could be made available for the WJHC.

    • An ideal place for him this year would be the AHL, but as that isn’t available, I think I would just communicate to Hockey Canada that should they be interested he could be made available for the WJHC.

      That’s an interesting point, but I always believe a player who belongs in the NHL should stay in the NHL all season long. Much like Monahan two years ago, I think Bennett belongs at the highest level and as such, I don’t the the World Juniors is where he should be.

      • RexLibris

        I default to the old “these kids need to play” and Bennett could get a lot of playing time in a positive atmosphere by going to the WJHC.

        Granted, the opposition would be a step down, but that would be the same as if he were sent to the AHL, where the structure is often lacking.

        As I see it, he needs to play and he needs a stable environment around him.

      • OKG

        Disagree. Bennett is playing well, but not so much so that the team can’t afford to lose him for two weeks. I fall into line with Loubo’s thinking when it comes to the WJC. It can be an incredible experience for players like Sam and reignite their offensive confidences. Oilers made a mistake not sending Draisatl. Not saying it’s the be all, end all, but a chance to play for one’s country against the elite of your peer group should not be dismissed so easily.

  • Slowmo

    I think we should give Sam some goals if it means moving Mono to frolics line then so be it the Kid needs some points so he can feel good about himself I don’t think it is far to let him watch these other kids get all the points and he is playing a defensive role we know he can play defence so give him a boost in accumulating a few points. What can it hurt at this point.

  • piscera.infada

    I completely agree with you Pat. Bennett is doing just fine. He looks like an NHLer on the ice. I think Bennett learning the defensive side of the game is good; any elite centre should be a great two way player. Hartley is taking care not to overwhelm Bennett as he adjusts to the NHL. I don’t think Bennett not scoring is hurting his confidence, if anything, it’s making him more hungry, which you can see by his play when he drives the net. I say let Bennett find his game, and maybe half way though the season, he can get looks with Monahan, Gaudreau or Hudler. Hopefully the Flames score more though, as they’ve only scored 1 goal in the last 2 games.

    How much time is Bennett seeing on the PP?

      • piscera.infada

        One might assume that perhaps sticking Bennett out there with Monahan and Gaudreau on the PP might a) get him going, and/or b) get the powerplay clicking a bit…

        …Makes too much sense for Bob.

  • piscera.infada

    Pat Steinberg suggested that if the Oilers do not turn things around soon that they should just up and move the franchise elsewhere. Maybe that was tongue in cheek but Oiler fans have not forgotten his stupid comment, is that what he is suggesting the Flames do if they continue their downward spiral? The Flames and Oiler fan bases are some of the very best in all of hockey and they deserve better than what their organizations are giving them but to suggest the fans should lose out because past management and coaches have driven their teams into the dirt is ludicrous. I can’t wait to see both teams grow to the point that they are relevant again and produce some great hockey and revive the rivalry. I suggest Pat that maybe some humble pie is in order and for the record I appreciate your commentary it is usually pretty good and you have valid opinions but that one comment irked a lot of Oiler fans and it was unfair to the fan base.