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.
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.
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.
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.