Sam Bennett: An Elite Player in the Making

Sam Bennett, 4th overall pick of the 2014 draft and the highest draft pick the Calgary Flames have ever had, has played just shy of 30 games total in the NHL (18 in the regular season and 11 in the post-season) but has already impressed quite substantially. Sam has 11 points in 17 games this year (0.65 ppg), contributing more and more offensively of late. A safe estimate is 40-50 points by the end of the year which puts him in the top 20-30 in rookie scoring over the past decade or so.  Here’s his best example so far…

But the offense isn’t the only thing Sam is showing an incredible early knack for as his underlying possession numbers, in this small initial sample set, are all pretty impressive thus far.


Bennett WOWY


Here’s a breakdown of Bennett’s WOWYs with his most prominent linemates. What stands out is, for the most part, he’s pretty good at rolling with the possession drivers on the team. With Frolik, Giordano and Gaudreau his game improves when he plays with them. He doesn’t necessarily prop them up yet but he fits in just fine (the only exception being Backlund … which could be because he’s getting used to playing on Backlund’s left side rather than up the middle and I think in the past few games he’s probably getting better with Backlund). With the sink holes of Russell and Wideman, again he hasn’t been able to make them better to this point, but when he gets away from them he thrives! Him and Hamilton don’t seem to mesh yet but hopefully that comes in time. 

But his numbers don’t just point to a player who is doing well at driving the play and helping his team at a very young age. Compared to the notable top 5 centers selected over the past few years he’s been absolutely incredible thus far.

Bennett Comparison 2015-11


Here’s a breakdown of centers drafted in the top 5 from 2006 to 2014. Stats include O-Zone %, Faceoff %, Corsi For %, Scoring Chances % and High Danger Scoring Chances %, all at 5v5. 

Bennett, like the good-to-elite peers in this group, has done very well from a 5 vs. 5 corsi stand point. Moreover, over the 17 games that Bennett has played so far this year, he appears to be one of the most dangerous rookies of the group.  

He shares the 2nd highest scoring chance % and holds the 2nd highest high danger scoring chance % of the group. But there’s something different about Bennett … something that breaks him apart from every player on this list … his ability to drive play despite starting in the neutral or defensive zone most of the time. He’s not the only impactful rookie center that had to start in the defensive zone/neutral zone more than the offensive zone but he’s the only one that was able to remain a positive possession player with the negative o-zone starts.

Bennett Comparison 2015-11 (2)

Here’s a breakdown of CF, SC and HD SC vs. O-Zone start differentials (I don’t know this is an actual stat but they are now … we’ll call them O-Zone Possession Differentials). Bennett is the only one to find himself in the positive in all three categories. 

While there are several positive corsi players in this group, they’ve all had substantial offensive zone starts to help guide them towards positive possession numbers. Backstrom, for instance, getting to play with Ovechkin in his first year (and every other year) started in the o-zone 60% of the time and was nearly a 60% corsi player. Leon Draisaitl, on the other hand, started the o-zone 79% of the time in his rookie year (the highest o-zone % I’ve ever seen in my life … veteran or rookie) and was barely a positive corsi player. Turris started 60% of the time in the offensive zone and had one of the lowest CF% of the group in his rookie year. 


It’s still early into Bennett’s career to be sure as by the end of the season maybe these numbers look substantially different. Perhaps they even out and Bennett’s O-Zone Possession Differentials fall in line with his peers, mostly netting out neutral or negative. On the flip side, if Bennett receives o-zone starts in line with the rookies depicted here perhaps he’s a 60% Corsi player … at 19.  

Everything about him is trending in the right direction. Good offensive skill, good instincts and thus far his underlying possession numbers are outpacing the rookie years of such notable elite monsters as Tavares, Toews and Seguin, in nearly every way. It’s very early but my guess … between Bennett and Gaudreau we’re seeing the early developments of two future superstars in the making.

      • Kevin R

        Draisaitl is good for what he is, but comparing him to Bennett is pointless, one is a rookie who’s the best player on his line getting barely second line minutes, the other:

        Insane offensive zone start push
        Third wheel on his line getting easy tap-ins and secondary assists
        20 years old (Bennett is a proper 19)
        34.8% on faceoffs
        39 more seconds of PP TOI
        2:51 more ES TOI

        But Oilers fans would tell you he’s the next Joe Thornton because he’s “outproducing” Bennett after a month of being a no-show in the AHL.

        • TRAIN#97

          You’re telling me Bennett has outplayed Draisaitl when he has 11 points in17 games when Draisaitl has 13 points in in 8 games?
          Draisaitl has out pointed him and outplayed him so far this year. Draisaitl is on pace for 117 points based on him missing 10 games. Bennett is on pace for 53 points . Can’t see how that makes Bennett better.

          • BurningSensation

            Bennett is already a proven playoff perfomer. Draisaitl could spend his whole career without playing a meanigful game.

            Draisaitl is gifted a top 5 LW, and ridiculous zone starts.

            Bennett is already a positive possession player playing tough minutes against tough competition.

            Draisaitl has a long way to go to catch Bennett.

          • TRAIN#97

            Keep trying to convince yourself.??

            Look at the points . I don’t think he is trying to catch anyone. Draisaitl is getting his points while McDavid is out and teams are matching their best against Hall and Draisaitl.

          • Willi P

            Stop cherry picking stats if you want to make a real comparison.

            LD has 45 NHL games played, 22 points, .49 PPG.

            SB has 18 NHL games played, 12 points, .67 PPG.

            I have not included playoffs as there is no comparable for LD.

            More importantly, as others have pointed out, SB’s O Zone starts are WAY lower.

            They are both good young hockey players and only time will tell who will be better, not your opinion.

          • 24% body fat

            not including playoffs is cherry picking stats. As this would have brought his ppg down.

            They are the same age group. Both Draft plus 2 year.

            The best comparison is year on year for now. Will be better at the 40 game mark when sample sizes are better, and both have settled in to their respective role.

          • Willi P

            Disagree on the playoffs, different game, higher stakes and less ice time. If LD had playoff stats, I would have compared.

            Year on year does not work either, SB never played an AHL game, went to the NHL straight from junior.

            But do agree that comparisons should wait for larger sample sizes.

          • OKG

            No comparison…Bennett is in his Rookie Year and Draisaitl played 37 games last year to at least acclimatize to the NHL even though he produced very little and was a huge MINUS plus/minus….Bennett is EVEN this year.

            Check out Bennett’s stats after 26 games played this year (plus 11 played in playoffs)and compare it with Draisaitl’s 37 game stint last year, his rookie year….Bennett is way ahead of Drai in that regard.

            Bennett is playing with two defense first players…not number one scoring phenoms.

          • OKG

            Watch Draisaitl’s points in the NHL. They’re all Hall or Nugent-Hopkins making the play to Draisaitl on the back door or they’re him dishing off to a point shot that beats goalies cleanly without a screen even. How many of his assists are actual setups? Now look at Bennett’s points. They’re ALL Bennett. Kid hasn’t gotten an easy point all season because he plays with Backlund, Frolik, Colborne.

            Oh and if we’re going to talk about Bennett’s 1 point in his first 8 NHL games of this season then we also need to talk about Draisaitl’s 2 points in 6 AHL games while being a -5.

            Reality is this:

            Draisaitl has 13 points in 8 games playing with Hall, who’s historically been a top 10 scorer in the NHL, and Nugent Hopkins, who’s also a first overall pick himself.

            Bennett has 10 points in 9 games being shuffled all over the lineup, with less PP ice time than Draisaitl gets and less even strength ice time.

            That’s not a huge difference at all over such a small sample size.

            Now consider the FACT that all of Draisaitl’s points are tertiary at best to the actual play and he’s shooting like 35% with an unsustainable IPP and unsustainable on-ice SH% while all of Bennett’s points are primary at worst and he’s shooting very sustainable percentages with sustainable on-ice shooting percentages while being involved in more actual scoring chances.

          • 24% body fat

            Tertiary? Really? Watcjh the games dude. He has been driving the play. Bennett will be greta but Drai is right up there. Maybe you need to watch pee wee so the pace is a little slower for you.

    • KACaribou

      I don’t think it has to be a slam against Bennett just to mention that Draisaitl is also looking good: 11 pts in 7 GP +4. I wouldn’t trade players but the kid is coming along very well also.

      • 24% body fat

        Looks like he is adjusting well to playing top line minutes with the Oiler’s top scoring duo. Not a knock against him, but he may not do as well on a different line where he has to drive the play more.

        As far as the Flames drafting him if Bennett was gone, there was a lot of discussion about Ritchie, Fleury, Dal Colle, Virtanen, and Ehlers.

        Bennett has seen tough starts so far and gotten the job done. He played in playoffs and scored. I would say he is a star in the making. Draisaitl may just be another guy feeding off other players.

        • 24% body fat

          Feeding off other players?

          He leads the league in points per game. Meaning he is outscoring his linemates.

          Bennet did nothing until he was put on a line with Gaudreau.

          Give your head a shake.

          Not slamming Bennet but it is not even close in production right now. Stop making excuses.

          • Willi P

            Classic Oiler fans always acting like they have amnesia.

            Im guessing you forgot about last season when Draisaitl could barely even muster 7 points in almost 40 games played. Did nothing until he played an extra season of junior hockey and put on a line with two first overall picks.

            Meanwhile Bennett missed an entire season worth of development time with a shoulder injury, is younger, and currently playing on a line with two players that would be considered bottom 6 forwards on a contender and Bennett is the one driving the line.

            Give your head a shake (or don’t might cause more memory loss).

          • KACaribou

            It’s easy to be all arrogant about Draisaitl right now, but it’s a long season. He could get into a slump and you could be eating your words.

            I like the kid though, plumb full of talent. I think he is more suited as a point producer, while Bennett does a lot of other things; as a irritator, speedy energy guy, who also checks as well as creating a lot of chances.

            You have to give it to Bennett also in that he doesn’t have the talent on his line that Draisaitl does either… yet.

            Going to make for a great Battle of Alberta in a few years once they all hit their peaks including McDavid.

          • 24% body fat

            Not being arrogant.

            The flames fans were the ones making stupid and uneducated comments about Draisaitl.

            Yes he played games last year, under the worst coach in the history of hockey.

            There is nothing to show that Draisaitl doesnt help drive the offence along side Taylor Hall. Quoting second assists is stupid as that is not the case. And if you have more points than your linemates could the case not be made that you are the one creating?

            Yes Draisaitl plays with Hall, but Bennet didnt do anything until JG got him going, and now he is going. I did not slam Bennet once or make a false statement.

            I stated that the comments have nothing to back them up and that the most common use of an offensive player being useful is measured in points. And right now there is no comparison.

  • Byron Bader

    We still need to add one more. I hope the team plays way better than this start has been & they seem to be doing better of late. But we sure could use 1 more future elite forward to this group. So playoffs are looking very very unlikely, how important is it to get another talent like this at this stage of our rebuild. So many have been down on a Monahan during this start. The kid is just having some sophomore jinx type of bounces but he is going to be our Brett Hull. He’s not flashy like Johnny & is a totally different player than Benny. But these 3 + 1 more is the piece we need to transition us into a consistent playoff contending team. Brodie & Hamilton are going to lead the backend. That is why that trade BT pulled off was huge, everyone expected immediate rewards from Hamilton, we will see these rewards in about 100 games.

  • Kevin R

    We still need one more. Many have been critical of Monahans game during this rough start. Yeah the sophomore jinx bounces seem to have caught up to him but just like that he is our leading scorer & 2nd in points. He is going to be our Brett Hull. This kid knows how to score. I would say Money is an elite scorer at this point as well. But we need 1 more elite forward. I have resolved myself that playoffs aren’t going to happen this year & am hoping just to see the team play better & a fun entertaining style that got me excited like last year. How huge if we could land 1 more elite pick at this stage of the rebuild. Not that I want to give up on the season, but I think BT needs to make rebuild type of moves & find a way to get a top 5 pick, whether its getting Oiler style lucky or acquiring assets that will allow us to use to move up again.

    I still think that Hamilton trade was huge as I see Brodie & Hamilton leading the backend. We all had expectations of instant returns from Hamilton but I again realize we will see the results in about 100 games. 1 more elite forward piece is the recipe to get this transition into a consistent playoff contending team. It wasn’t that long ago that I didn’t think we had any elite players in our system. Now we have 5.

  • Burnward

    Why does it even matter how good Draisaitl looks? The Oilers had first pick between the two. From the beginning, the Flames were almost certainly going to pick whoever the Oilers didn’t pick.

    Maybe Bennett turns out better. Maybe Draisaitl does. But the way both guys are trending, I don’t think there’s going to be any “huge” regrets. I mean, do you think Buffalo looks back and deeply regrets taking Lafontaine over Yzerman in 83? Obviously that’s best case scenario, two hall-of-famers, etc.

    • supra steve


      Small nit pick, Buff took Barrasso at #5 in ’83. Isles drafted Lafontaine at #3 before Yzerman at #4. All 3 turned out better than #1 Lawton and #2 S. Turgeon.

      Flames took Dan Quinn at #13.

    • BurningSensation

      It matters because Flames>Oilers.

      It matters because while Lafontaine was excellent, Yzerman was unworldly (and has the cups to prove it).

      It matters because if Draisaitl is a bust and Bennett an All-Star, Flames fans will be able to roast Oiler fans on it forever.

      It matters. It ALWAYS MATTERS.

  • ChinookArchYYC

    I’ve been thinking about Bennett and who he compares with in Flames history. They two guys that come to mind for their level of compete and skill are Gilmour and Fleury are the guys. The best quality that both had and what I hope Benett becomes are that both were game breakers and difference makers.

  • RKD

    Bennett is a stud, the maturity and his level of play in the post-season and this season is pretty amazing considering how young he is. Love his Doug Gilmouresque tenacity and pitbull drive. He’s coming into his own and developing confidence each day. I’m going to start calling him Super Sam.

    • Kevin R

      Noticed at the games when Johnny scores they play Johnny Be Good, when Monahan scores they play Money Money Money & when Bennett scores they should play Benny & the Jets. :-}

  • RexLibris

    Great analysis, Byron.

    I’m always reluctant to draw any conclusions about a player early.

    That said, Bennett is trending nicely and the biggest concern with a young player is always his play away from the puck. If he can show he’s responsible there, then with the talent he has he should become a very strong player.

  • ChinookArchYYC

    These Bennett vs Draisaitl comparisons are a bit ridiculous. There isn’t a team in the league that wouldn’t scoop either player up, given the chance. Clearly, early in their careers they are both excelling.

  • Willi P

    Oilers were looking for a bigger centre when they drafted, they already had RNH. Made sense for the Oilers to pick Leon, If Oilers had Monahan they would not have pick Leon D 3rd.

    Both good players Leon and Sam

  • TRAIN#97

    I’ve seen Bennett and Gsudreau playing together lots this year.
    Last night one of Draisaitl’s line mates was Purcell who had not been very good and he still got two points and may have been the best player on the ice again.

    Again! I saw a video of Draisaitl doing pullups with one arm. Amazing

    • OKG

      Draisaitl’s assist on Purcell’s goal is hilarious. Talk about a nothing assist. Also hilarious is Draisaitl’s goal which was again a back door with a wide open net.

      Taylor Hall drives that line. If you don’t see that I don’t know what to say. See what happened to Yakupov without McDavid? Now imagine Draisaitl without Hall.