36Sam Bennett

Sam Bennett has had suboptimal linemates this season

Sam Bennett is not having the season anyone hoped for.

The 2014 fourth overall pick – the highest pick in Flames franchise history – currently has 23 points in 73 games. This comes after a 36-point rookie season. There was absolutely nothing wrong with that – Sean Monahan had a 34-point rookie season, and then followed it up with 62 points as a sophomore. Bennett clearly had potential – he was fantastic in the 2015 playoffs – so he would break out in his second season too, right?

Well, that’s forgetting a crucial component: Monahan got Johnny Gaudreau to work with. Bennett has… not.

Sam Bennett’s linemates

Of course, it’s not as though all of Monahan’s success was derived from his linemates – Gaudreau and a still very functional Jiri Hudler – but it sure helped. Think back on how Mikael Backlund went from centring the fourth line and on the verge of the organization losing faith in him, to centring Lance Bouma and David Jones, (and scoring 27 points in 52 games), to Matthew Tkachuk and Michael Frolik (and sitting at 50 points in 74 games, and counting). Obviously some of that progression is simply due to Backlund’s growth as a player over the years – and remember, he didn’t start hitting half-a-point-per-game status until he was 23 – but a massive upgrade in linemates certainly helped. There’s only so much you can ask one player to do on his own.

Bennett’s most common linemates this season have been Troy Brouwer, Kris Versteeg, and Alex Chiasson: players with point per game ratios of .33, .47, and .29. He’s not exactly getting a Gaudreau-caliber player to play with on the regular. (Credit where credit is due in that it was tried; unfortunately, it came at a time when most of the team was a mess, though there was a hint of something there).

Via Corsica, here’s a WOWY chart of some of Bennett’s most common linemates over both this season and last:

The size of the circles represents the amount of ice time Bennett has spent with each player. So those tiny little blue dots aligned with Tkachuk, Matt Stajan, and Monahan indicate Bennett hasn’t spent that much ice time with either of those three players – so we shouldn’t read too much into something like how much better his CF values were alongside Tkachuk (though it could be something to note for the future, should the 3M line ever be broken up).

Most obviously, he’s been missing Frolik and Backlund, and there was a noticeable jump in his game when he was slotted alongside them for Tkachuk’s two-game suspension. He’s done alright alongside Gaudreau and Versteeg, though both players appear to be better away from him; Chiasson has been one of his best linemates all season (and they work well together on the penalty kill), but Chiasson isn’t quite the caliber of player you want to see playing regularly alongside a fourth overall pick.

Patience required

It’s definitely a down year for the 20-year-old, but there are a couple of things we can’t ignore: he’s only 20, and his best regular linemate this season has been Chiasson.

Bennett’s original linemates to start the year were Tkachuk and Brouwer. Tkachuk probably would have ended up working out – and still very well might in the near future; they’re close in age – while Brouwer has not.

But when you look at the way the Flames are currently set up, with Micheal Ferland having established himself in a top offensive role, there’s simply nobody available who could probably actively help Bennett or give him a boost. The best possible wingers for him are Versteeg and Chiasson; in recent games at centre he’s played alongside Bouma and Curtis Lazar.

There’s only so much one can ask of a player. Backlund, at 25, managed to be a .52 point per game guy alongside Bouma and Jones. He’d played about 250 games before that season started. Virtually the same thing is being asked of Bennett, five years younger and with 78 games played before this season. That’s a tall order for just about anybody in those circumstances.

Two things are required with Bennett. Number one is patience.

And number two is the ability to get him a good winger. The Flames still need at least one more impact forward, and it’s Bennett who needs him the most.

    • jupiter

      Why would he sign for cheap? Its a working relationship. Management needs to supply the tools and material. Sam preforms the work. Due diligence is required from both parties. Low-balling his next contract would start a grievance.

      • supra steve

        It is obvious, to me, that SB will sign a lower dollar/shorter term contract this summer than he would have been offered if he was performing as a 2nd line C with the points and linemates to match that role. Part of it is who he is playing with, part of it is his performance. He will get a reasonable dollar, short term “bridge deal”, and hopefully he continues to develop and earns a lot more on his next deal.

        • Kevin R

          Yup & if Flames were smart, they would try to get him to take a Brodie type deal of 6 years for 4.6Mill per. Will be a steal when the Flames finally get out of this veteran/experience mindset. I really hope Tre takes a step back & not be in any rush to sign any “depth” type players. I really want to see us target a winger for Bennett where it may even cost us a few assets. Going into next year, I see the Gaudreau/Monahan/Ferland line & the 3M line staying intact. If Tre can bribe Vegas to take Brouwer (Mcphee connection may not be so unrealistic), with Smid/Engellend/Wideman/Chaisson/Versteeg/ all coming off the books, we have the $$$ to get a top 4 D & a good winger for Bennett.

          • cberg

            I like all your suggested moves, however my preference is bringing in youth from the farm. We should have Klimchuk, Mangiapanne, Shinkaruk, Poirier, Hathaway and Jankowski all fighting for forward spots who could all be wingers. And there might even be others…. There has been way to much reticence at bringing in our younger prospects and fitting them in versus bringing in marginal vets with “experience” like Brouwer, Chiasson, Versteeg, Bartkowski and etc. To me this team will never progress to the levels needed until they do so.

          • Guest

            I can’t agree with this enough. I was hoping for a 6-8 year deal between 3.75 and 4.25. A bridge is a waste that teams need if they are in cap hell or have an outperforming second rounder they are not sure about. Locking up talent cheap and long term rarely goes wrong.

            On Brouwer, almost every team has a contract they want to dump on Vegas. Vegas will be asking for picks or young talent to eat contracts. You can move Brouwer but its going to cost. It may even cost a first, or a good prospect and a second. I’m down with paying to move a contract if Brouwer really is this bad. Its a huge roster hole.

        • jupiter

          Agreed ,next contract is short. He has not demonstrated a big payout, nor has management provided proper development tools. I’d bet Sam wants a short contract .

  • Hemi-97

    Thought Bennett would be able to at least hit 40 points. I don’t think he will be the ” driver” everyone thought but should still be a good player in a supporting role.

  • joey joe joe jr shabadoo

    Bennett has certainly drawn the short straw in regard to line mates. Further he gets next to zero PP time.

    Right or wrong the Flames seem to be committed to developing Sam as a C. I just hope they will be able to find a quality winger, or two, for him play to with moving forward.

    At the start of the year, he played with Brower & Tkachuck. Have to wonder if the Bennett Tkachuck tandem may be revisited next year.

    I really like the player, but you have to wonder his current situation is good for either side. Is there a fit here for him? The 3M line may have pushed SB to the outside looking in on the top 6/top 2 C. Question becomes is he being utilized correctly, and if not, what is the plan?

  • Matty Franchise Jr

    Flames need to either get Sammy a winger of similar age to play with him and Big V, or a centre of similar age to bump Sammy to the wing. Flames don’t have the depth at C right now to keep him on the wing.

    Also Troy should probably play only with Matty Franchise Sr from now until he gets taken by Vegas.

    • Justthateasy

      I agree that Bennett should play with another combo where chemistry might click. And that leaves Jankowski and whomever maybe Hathaway who I do like.
      There is no percentage in having him fill in on one of the top two lines. He needs to form his own chemistry line.
      I like his quiet confidence. Somehow he reminds me of Steve Shutt who had a hard time getting going but when he did he was a cog on that Montreal team.

  • Baalzamon

    I say this a lot, but the belief that Bennett is better on the wing is so persistent that I have to bring it up every time: Bennett is better as a center. Always has been. He only–ONLY–looks good on the wing alongside Backlund. The same guy who made people think Colborne was a legitimate 2nd line forward, and who enabled Bouma to score the most goals he’s ever scored at any level since bantam.

    Fun fact: Center Bennett (meaning Bennett without Monahan, Stajan, or Backlund; I’m too lazy to do an actual full analysis like I did last year) without Brouwer has a 50.4% CF this season. Bennett alongside Versteeg without Brouwer has a 52.6% CF.

    Hmm. Maybe Bennett ISN’T the problem?

  • Newbietwo

    The kid is 20!!! He will be a driver in two years max but he will need to figure out what kind of player he wants to be because he can’t be everything.. he is so focussed on speed of play he runs out of options.. he needs to learn to be patient with the puck on his stick and be more comfortable holding onto it.. the only time he generates puck possession is from the boards and as a centre that ain’t good because that’s the wingers job..

    As you can see it’s unfortunate but this year he’s challenges have all come full circle and includes, puck patience, illegitimate linemates and in this league the biggest factor of positive play drive your defensive pairings..

    All this has lead to him having no confidence in generating plays because he has little faith on the other four players getting the puck back to him or finishing

  • Avalain

    I understand that he has lesser linemates, no pp time, and less time on the ice. But he also is matched up against lesser competition. It’ll be fantastic to get a better winger for him but it’s not his only problem.

    • al rain

      Our northern brethren just hoping for the best for us.

      Well, the Flames will be fine without your condescension and without resorting to a pathetic decade of welfare handouts.