Expectations were high for Sam Bennett entering his rookie season. Not only was he following up stellar campaigns by first Sean Monahan and then Johnny Gaudreau, but he was also coming in as the highest draft pick in Calgary Flames history. The Flames were the only team of the modern era to have never picked in the top five; Bennett’s selection at fourth overall changed that.
Combine that with a pretty good playoff showing the year before, not to mention entering the 2015-16 fully healthy (shoulder ailments be gone!), and Bennett should have had a fantastic season. He never quite found a stable place in the lineup, though, and only had really quality players to play with when he was playing the wing alongside Mikael Backlund and Michael Frolik.
But while Bennett didn’t exactly blow anyone away during his rookie campaign – there won’t be any Calder Trophy votes to be found here – he still put together a solid season, and one that still points towards a bright future.
Bennett played 77 games his first NHL season, scoring 18 goals and 36 points along the way. He finished eighth in overall Flames scoring, and tied for 11th in overall NHL rookie scoring. He averaged just 15:08 a game, which was less ice time than all but two rookies above him in scoring (Anthony Duclair and Robby Fabbri).
Bennett was seventh in Flames power play ice time with 150:58 minutes (just 16 more seconds than Dennis Wideman), the fourth-most used forward. He scored eight points with the man advantage, tied for seventh on the team alongside Wideman and Jiri Hudler before the latter was traded. He was kept almost completely off of the penalty kill, though, playing just 2:14 throughout the season shorthanded; even several call-ups from later in the season got more ice time than him (including Patrick Sieloff and Turner Elson, who both played all of one NHL game).
And hey – while Bennett didn’t have the most impressive season offensively, he did make history with his four-goal game.
He failed to score 20 goals as a rookie as Gaudreau and Monahan had done before him, but neither has yet to have a four-goal game. And watching those particular goals gives anyone plenty of reason to look forward to the future of this team with Bennett in it, because a lot of skill was on display that night.
Via OwnThePuck, Bennett (left) hasn’t played enough to have his own HERO chart, so here’s one comparing him to another high Flames draft pick, Monahan (right). The early returns on Bennett are positive so far, with solid offensive and possession numbers alike hinting at a regular top six player – and with Bennett, that’s probably a worst-case scenario.
Impact on team
Top left has players in most difficult circumstances: more defensive zone starts and tougher competition. Bottom right has players in easiest circumstances: a lot of offensive zone starts and weak competition. The bigger a player’s circle, the more he plays. The bluer, the greater his possession relative to his teammates; the redder, the worse. Click on image for full-sized chart from Corsica.
Bennett was relatively sheltered compare to this teammates – as he should have been, considering his status as a rookie (and, later on, a rookie learning to play at centre). With an offensive zone start of 33.45%, he was the sixth most sheltered regular Flame, behind Hudler, Granlund, Gaudreau, Monahan, and Nakladal. All of those players were primed for offensive zone starts, however: the Gaudreau – Monahan – Hudler line was meant for scoring, while Nakladal and Granlund were in a similar situation to Bennett, being newer players to the NHL.
The good news with Bennett is he didn’t need to be sheltered as much as other newcomers, even though he’s only 19 years old. He finished the season with a 5v5 CF of 48.71%: ninth out of all regulars, and ahead of both Hudler and Granlund, who were the most sheltered players during their time on the Flames. As far as rookie debuts go, Bennett had a pretty good one.
Bennett also appears to be in good position when comparing how well his top 10 teammates fared with and without him. He exhibited a clear improvement on Wideman, Engelland, Hamilton, Colborne, and Frolik’s games, while being relatively even alongside Russell, Giordano, and Backlund, and dropping off a bit when playing with Brodie.
Frolik and Backlund – his most common linemates – had massive positive impacts on Bennett’s game. On the other hand, players like Wideman, Russell, and Granlund really dragged him down – so it’s a good thing two of those three guys are already gone.
However, with Bennett continuing his career as a centre, playing alongside Backlund (and, by extension probably, Frolik) won’t be an option. He had a limited positive showing with Colborne, but the Flames really need more impact players to play with him.
What comes next?
Probably the best in-organization comparison we have of Bennett is Monahan. Both young centres were taken at similar spots in the draft, and both look to be long-term parts of the team’s future.
With that in mind, let’s go back up to look at their comparative WARRIOR chart. Just from that snapshot of their careers, it appears as though Bennett actually has the higher ceiling – both offensively, and defensively. He may have benefitted from extended time playing with Backlund – Bennett’s corsi numbers dropped a rather noticeable extent when separated from him – or he may simply project to be a better player.
Offensively, though, he’s about on par with Monahan from his own rookie season. As a rookie, Monahan scored 34 points over 75 games; Bennett had 36 points over 77 games.
We may not be able to expect 60 points from Bennett next season – that’s going to be heavily dependent on just who his linemates are. (At this point in time, at least, Monahan entering the NHL earlier appears to have allowed him to claim dibs on Gaudreau, and the two do work well together.) Bennett does look to have a bright future ahead of him, though – and if the Flames can get him quality wingers to work alongside, he could have an impressive sophomore season.