What’s his age again?
This roster has seen a lot of turnover and replacement, but a lot is still the same, specifically with regards to lines and pairings. Sean Monahan and Johnny Gaudreau will still be on the first line, and Michael Frolik and Mikael Backlund will still be pals on the shutdown line. Matt Stajan and Lance Bouma will be united on the fourth line again. No one is really changing their roles.
Except for Sam Bennett, the Flames’ highest ever draft pick. This year will be the first he will play at his natural position of centre. He’ll also have two unfamiliar linemates in Troy Brouwer and Matthew Tkachuk. All these new roles and scenarios are going to be quite the ask, but they’re something that Bennett is poised to conquer.
The year before
It’s safe to say that Bennett’s rookie year did not go as he would’ve hoped.
Scoring proved to be tricky for the 19-year-old, who only scored 36 points through 77 games last year (five of those points coming in the same game). His points totals for such an esteemed prospect were slightly disappointing, though he didn’t get the best opportunities to score. He was mostly with Backlund and Frolik on the shutdown line, and also received very little powerplay or 3v3 time. The former was explainable: the Flames really didn’t feel he was ready to be a centre yet, but too ready to go back to the OHL. The latter was because a now-unemployed coach couldn’t identify areas of the game where Bennett should excel.
We all know that talking point totals are not the most truthful way to discuss Sam Bennett’s 2015-16. Every time we saw him on the ice, he was quite clearly holding his own. Arguably, he was even on par with the veterans surrounding him, and the data supports that.
Sam Bennett is going to be just fine. He does all the things that lead to goals being scored – driving play and suppressing the opposition – without actually scoring the goals himself.
However, it is still worth noting that he did this with Backlund and Frolik, players who are well known for giving other players piggyback rides. The question for 2016-17 will be whether or not Bennett can succeed on his own.
Here’s the answer:
Bennett is being taken off the leash this year. Instead of being a second line winger to the playmaking centre, he’ll have to be that centre.
This is how Glen Gulutzan has been treating him in the preseason. Mostly thanks to the top line being out, Bennett has acted as the 1C with Tkachuk and Brouwer on his wings, and it’s a line combination that is likely to stick heading into the regular season.
That is our first point of optimism for Bennett’s 2016-17 campaign. He and Brett Kulak are tied for the preseason scoring lead with three points apiece. In three out of four games, Bennett has been a positive corsi rel player (two games, leading the pack by margins greater than +20CFrel%), as well as a minutes muncher.
Another thing working in Bennett’s favour is that he won’t be with the defensive line. Gulutzan has already tipped his hand this preseason as to how he will use 19-93-36. They are going to be the offensive power, and they will get the offensive zone time. In three of those four preseason games, Bennett received over 70% OZS starts at 5v5 (including the game against Winnipeg, where he did not receive anything but offensive zone starts).
Bennett’s scenario is almost exactly like Sean Monahan’s in 2014-15. Take a second year centre coming off of a very promising first season, add a well hyped rookie on his left and a veteran presence on his right, and then give them the offensive zone time. With Bennett, statistically speaking, being a better playdriver than Monahan we could see an even bigger explosion than Monahan’s sophomore season.
Oh, he’ll also get powerplay time too. That’s gonna help.
I would place Bennett somewhere in the range of 60-70 points this season. He may even usurp the first line role, but that’s my bold pick.