26Sam Bennett

Sam Bennett’s coming out party, Part II

There was a lot of excitement when Sam Bennett was first drafted. Taken fourth overall, he became the highest pick in Flames franchise history – and this was a guy who was ranked as the number one prospect for 2014 at the time. A bit smaller, a lot younger, but someone who could score and agitate like nobody’s business; the second coming of Doug Gilmour. A potential first line centre – and wouldn’t that be someone to go with an organization that already had Sean Monahan? Years of having no centre depth, and suddenly, completely fixed over the course of two drafts.

Except thanks to a hurt shoulder, the Flames didn’t get to indulge in their shiny new toy right away. That had to wait for surgery, recovery, rehabilitation – by then it was February. You’re not going to burn a year of a contract that early nor thrust an untested kid into a mid-season NHL playoff chase, so it was back to the OHL, where he resumed lighting it up.

Kingston’s season ended before the Flames’. Game 82 was meaningless, so Bennett got to make his NHL debut. And as someone clearly deserving, he got to make his playoff debut, too.

Four points in 11 games and a maturity well beyond his years, he was enthralling to watch. He initiated the play that led to the Flames’ Game 1 winner over Vancouver. Two games later, he scored his first playoff goal: a go-ahead at the time; one that ended up being the game-winner when all was said and done. The very next game, another insurance goal. And one more to prevent a shutout – and that’s not even counting when he got Martin Gelinas’d against Anaheim in round two.

Those playoff games were like a glimpse into the future. This is what you have to look forward to. This kid is a gamer, and you are going to love him.

His rookie season didn’t quite follow that path. Bennett put up 36 points in 77 games – comparable to Monahan’s rookie year, but especially hit hard by a lack of consistent linemates. He had a four-goal game against the Florida Panthers to hint that playoff performer was still in there, but otherwise, it was a season that didn’t quite live up to expectations.

Until this season. While Bennett’s rookie season was respectable, his sophomore year went off the rails. He only scored 26 points in 81 games, a far cry from what his potential seemed to be. He spent most of the year outside of the top six, a tweener on a dysfunctional team that couldn’t get anything going for itself, and not much the beneficiary of powerplay time or even quality linemates. Combine that with the number of boneheaded penalties taken – no indications of being a pest, just stupid mistakes – and, well, he’s only 20, but he was also a fourth overall pick, and talks of “bust” started to rise.

At least right up until he started centring Kris Versteeg and Alex Chiasson late in the regular season, and suddenly looked a lot better. Not like an elite offensive player, mind you, but better. Functional, contributing, a threat.

And then the playoffs started, and he suited up for his second go – and it was exactly like the 18-year-old who first graced himself on the big stage.

Bennett only has two goals through these three games, but it feels like he could have a lot more. He has been nigh impossible to contain. His overall numbers haven’t been anything eyepopping – a 49.30% 5v5 CF with 62.50% offensive zone starts – but this is, perhaps, where the eye test itself really favours him (or at least, by my eyes it has). Between Bennett and Versteeg, the Flames have found their best players of these playoffs to date, both fighting for every single scrap they can get – Bennett in particular bringing a more physical edge that has seen him do everything from wipe out Ducks to win puck battles and create scoring chances out of nothing. He’s noticeable – in mostly good ways – virtually every time he’s on the ice, and he’s only eighth in forward ice time.

These have been a rough playoffs overall, but the ultimate silver lining to all of this has to be Bennett’s play. If he can keep it up going into next season – admittedly an “if” made stronger by how this past year has played out – then the Flames will be well on their way to having three dangerous lines, if they aren’t there already.

  • TrevorKidd37

    Solid article! Sam has been an absolute beauty in these playoffs, as well for the latter half of the season. We can definitely expect big things from this kid moving forward, especially with an upgrade in linemates and ice time.

    • The Doctor

      I’ve been super-keen on Bennett ever since I first read scouting reports on him. And I think these playoffs have really given him an opportunity to show the combination of skill and grit that he brings that’s so valuable. That’s one of the things that was in those scouting reports, i.e., how he’s a real Doug Gilmour-style player who, despite not being big, has a real nasty streak and is very effective in corners and along the boards. I’ve noticed his play along the boards this series has been solid.

  • O'M

    Too early to discuss next season? Only thing keeping me sane today.

    Bennett and Janko look like the start of a great third line, don’t they?

    At this point, I would pay Vegas Shinkaruk and a pick (I don’t know, a third?) in exchange for taking Brouwer.

    • supra steve

      Or…Vegas could select Shinkaruk in the expansion draft, and not take on Brouwer’s heavy contract for the pitiful return of a 3rd round draft pick. McPhee is an experienced GM, he has seen good players age into bad players in the past, and he’s seeing it in Brouwer currently. The price to move him will be more than a 3rd round pick.

      • O'M

        I didn’t want to take the wrath by suggesting a first for taking on Brouwer. I think that would be more valuable than a first round pick even.

        apparently Vegas is trying to find some contracts with term because next year’s artificial floor will be easy to hit, but they have to hit the 2018-19 real floor and that could prove “a little” difficult to do responsibly.

        Brouwer would act as a bloated third liner and three-year captain. Not taking offensive line time from young players needing development.

        One of Brouwer, Abdelkader or Brown will end up in Vegas. Or some other expensive leader. I could see McPhee liking adding Brouwer in the expansion draft, and prospects and picks.

  • Newbietwo

    Bennet is being moulded to be our 2nd line Centre.. what is interesting is that you have Monohan who was supposed to be a Two Way Centre but has moulded more into a finisher so he requires a play maker and a power forward.. which explains our first line now

    Then you have Backlund is is def a Two Way Centre so requires a Power Forward and Playmaker.. that is why I always thought Chiason and Versteeg should be playing with Backlund

    You then have Bennet is a skilled Power Forward Centre that requires a Playmaker and Two Way Forward.. That is why I thought Chucky and Frolik should be playing with Bennet..

    That gives is defensive and offensive lines that are balanced.. Frolik doesn’t get offisive upside playing on the top 6.. so we actually hurt ourselves the way things are now

  • Raffydog

    On a couple occasions in last nights game, the Bennet line was out against Getzlaf, and they seemed to do a better job containing them, then the 3M line.

  • Flamethrower

    Bennett deserves another top flite winger…and I’m sorry this is not meant to be a slight against Chaisson. But he is a fourth liner. We have bigger fish to fry, my meaning getting rid of dead weight. I’m sure we all feel the same about Bouma & Brouwer they really serve no purpose on this club. Bartkowski should be added with the other two but for a different reason he is a minor league player and should be in Stocton. Changing these three players would make a world of difference and we have the replacement parts here and in stockton.

  • Flamethrower

    Bennett deserves another top flite winger…and I’m sorry this is not meant to be a slight against Chaisson. But he is a fourth liner. We have bigger fish to fry, my meaning getting rid of dead weight. I’m sure we all feel the same about Bouma & Brouwer they really serve no purpose on this club. Bartkowski should be added with the other two but for a different reason he is a minor league player and should be in Stocton. Changing these three players would make a world of difference and we have the replacement parts here and in stockton. So fed up with not putting the best players possible on the ice due to poor contracts for certain individuals and forced to play them by ownership. The team should come first! This club at times is like a one legged man in an ass kicking contest…

  • Kevin R

    I would actually love to see Benny with Tkachuk & Versteeg next year. Frolik & Backlund to me are inseparable. Heck put Janko on that left side with Backs & Frolik next year & give him a real good NHL mentorship.

  • HOFer_dirty30

    I’d like to see Benny play with lazar/janko next season as they are close ages, and play a same style fast, physical game. But being they are all centres I don’t see that happening

  • 24% body fat

    a lot of excuses and no accountability, and why in 3 games is it declared a coming out party for a 30 pointer after two seasons of not taking any steps

  • BlueMoonNigel

    Sorry, but if Sammy Bennett is one of the best players in this series, then that goes a long way in explaining why the team is on the brink of elimination.

    Nothing against Bennett, but there are a lot of “better” Flames who should be playing better in this series than young Sam.