FlamesNation Player Evaluations: Sam Bennett

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.

Season summary

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.

BennettHERO

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 usage

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.

bennettwowy

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.

  • Baalzamon

    IMO Bennett will never be the goal scorer Monahan is. But that’s okay. Patrice Bergeron generally isn’t the point producer David Krejci is. But he’s a more complete player.

    I do think Monahan’s WARRIOR chart is punished a bit by his rookie season, though. His underlying results have improved since then, even with increased responsibilities.

    • DestroDertell

      The past two years’ numbers are also heavily boosted by playing with Gaudreau, so it goes both ways – especially this last year in which he had a 38.8 CF% without Gaudreau.
      Playing below Backlund does harm his relative numbers but Stajan/Granlund should’ve balanced that out somewhat.

    • ChinookArchYYC

      It’s way too soon to tell. On balance I expect Bennett to surpass Monahan skill and possession wise, so I think we agree on this. I also agree some guys are just better at goal scoring, and Monahan is a goal scorer, but Bennett does everything right to score as well. What happens when he’s given top line minutes and highend linemates? I’m still excited about this kids ceiling.

  • OKG

    Monahan’s head start, while fun last year, makes evaluating better talents like Bennett and Jankowski an exercise in futility as Monahan’s been “given” the #1C spot without having to earn it against competition. That’s fine for now but I hope if one of our more talented centers outplays him for it, they earn the #1C spot. Sam Bennett is our future #1C and the only thing stopping him from getting there is being anchored down by linemates like Jooris and Bollig.

    • FlamesFanOtherCity

      I believe that Monahan earned it 2 years ago, after Backlund was injured. He took on the responsibility required, facing the top opposition. He beat out Stajan for the role.

      What you call #1 or #2 depends on what their role is. Toews in the #1C in Chicago, but Kane’s line is the top producing line. Having Johnny play with Monahan is fine, if that is where he is most productive. If he fits better with Bennett, then that will happen.

      • OKG

        Jankowski – Better vision, skating, puck skills, defensive instinct, size, possession-oriented decision-making, raw passing skills.

        Monahan – Better shot, goal scoring IQ, more NHL experience, more physically mature right now.

        Depends what you value at the center position. Both have exceptional hands in tight. I prefer a Backstrom type center over a Smythe type center.

  • kid presentable

    bennett 5 on 5 primary points/60: 1.42
    monahan 5 on 5 primary points/60 in his SOPHOMORE YEAR: 1.27

    bennett had a great rookie season and he had some terrible luck and terrible deployments/linemates. he was also one of the youngest players in the league.

    once we turf hartley, and get some better wingers, bennett will bloom.

  • kid presentable

    bennett’s 5 on 5 primary points/60: 1.42
    monahan’s 5 on 5 primary points/60 as a sophomore: 1.27

    bennett will be fine. once we turf hartley and get a real nhl system and get better wingers we’ll see his secondary assists and pp points increase, and his point totals will too. to my eye he varied between our most and 4/5th most impactful forward any given night.

    he’s going to be a force once he puts on weight and gains experience/confidence.

  • kid presentable

    bennett’s 5 on 5 primary points/60: 1.42
    monahan’s 5 on 5 primary points/60 as a sophomore: 1.27

    bennett will be fine. once we turf hartley and get a real nhl system and get better wingers we’ll see his secondary assists and pp points increase, and his point totals will too. to my eye he varied between our most and 4/5th most impactful forward any given night.

    he’s going to be a force once he puts on weight and gains experience/confidence.

  • oddclod

    Bennett will be an absolute killer for this team and I think we can all agree on that.

    While Monohan may have been fortunate to have linked with Gaudreau, it may well be equallly fortuitous to have Bennett develop his own identity by learning from the Backlunds. In time, we should see Bennett make hay against inferior match-ups while becoming a complete player.

    My view is that through this road, he may eventually earn the Captaincy by being the undisputed leader when Gio slows down. I suspect Monohan will be a career alternate while Gaudreau will be like Kane in that it doesn’t make a difference if he has a letter or not, he will absolutely murder the competition often.

    My friends and I often muse that Calgary has the next best thing to Toews, Kane, & Doug Gilmour while Backlund, Giordano, Brodie, Hamilton insulate us and have us set up for several cup runs in the future. If any of our past drafts provide even more fruit, the future is bright for Calgary.

    Could the charge potentially led by Sam Bennett ala Doug Gilmour? Conceivable indeed! Great problem to have.

    Much to be excited about in the yyc.

    GFG

  • Brodano12

    If Bennett ends up being being as good as Monahan, he’ll be wicked good. Monahan is an amazing player, and having 2 players of his calibre would be unreal. And the best part is that he’s probably gonna be even better!

    Monahan was on pace for ~55 points in 14/15 even before he was put on Gaudreau’s line. His linemates then were GlenX and Jones, so it’s fair to say he’s a 1st line centre in his own right. Bennett had a better rookie season than Monahan with mostly worse linemates, and was snakebitten all season compared to Monahan who was quite fortunate in his 1st year.

    We also have to keep in mind that Bennett was the youngest top prospect in his draft class, only a few months older than McDavid (he had played one less season than most the 2014 draft class), AND he lost almost an entire year of development due to shoulder surgery. Draisaitl, Reinhart, Larkin all had full seasons last year.

    Considering all that, his rookie season looks even more impressive. If we can find a QUALITY winger for him (Okposo pls!!!) then a line of Colborne-Bennett-Okposo would be terrifying!!

  • Stu Cazz

    It appears to me chemistry is very important to Bennett’s success. He not only needs to play top 6 but he needs to play with the right players in order to be productive…..

  • freethe flames

    I said on an earlier thread that I was disappointed with Sam’s season; the reason is I had far to high of expectations for him. He had a very good rookie season but I expected him to have a great season and be a Calder candidate. I love how he competes and his skill level and I can’t wait to see him play with some guys with more skill.

  • RKD

    There were a lot of nights when Bennett was consistently our best forward even when he wasn’t putting up any points. Once he fills out a bit more physically and becomes a more consistent player, he will be right up there amongst the Flames top forwards. Bennett will be a great player, he’s only 19 and his offensive production will follow. I’m not concerned that he didn’t score 20, he went an 18 game stretch without scoring. He played most of the season the wing then had to adjust to the center position late in the season. He was one of the top forwards during our playoff run last year against the Canucks.