Sam Bennett, by many respects, has all the necessary inputs to be an NHL forward who provides an impact. Whether he truly reaches the expectations and ceiling perceived when he was drafted in 2014 is still up in the air given this past season’s struggles. That said, with those prerequisites, fans shouldn’t give up just yet.
Another season under Glen Gulutzan next season, with the linemates that will help rather than drag him down, and we might see a shade of Bennett that we haven’t seen before.
2016-17 season summary
To say 2016-17 was a frustrating year, both for Bennett and for fans, would be an understatement. Bennett has always had lofty expectations associated with him since being drafted. Part of that comes with being drafted where he was, part of that came with the belief from fans that he could transition to the NHL like Sean Monahan did. A quick start of six points in the first 10 games of the season gave reason to hope he could continue at a respectable pace, playing down the lineup while Monahan and Mikael Backlund took on increased responsibilities.
But it didn’t help, and the rest of the year followed with significant ups and downs.
By the all-star break, Bennett’s true sophomore season stood at 10 goals, nine assists in 51 games. Post-all-star break? A disastrous seven points in the final 30 games. With that came the obvious cries of, “Bennett is a bust,” and, “Send him to the AHL.” Still, within those moments of honest mediocrity at times there were some positives to find, even if you don’t want to believe they existed.
Bennett’s usage and ascension to being a common penalty killer at 4v5 worked out quite well for how he and his frequent partner Alex Chiasson were deployed. The eventual relegation of Troy Brouwer out of the top nine to the fourth line gave Bennett the opportunity to play with Kris Versteeg and Chiasson, which wasn’t a bad third line.
It gave fans some optimism and helped quell a little of the chatter. Moments like this justified it:
— AOL KEYWORD: Mike (@mikeFAIL) December 11, 2016
Thirteen goals and 13 assists in 81 games isn’t anything to write home about, but if there is a reason for hope next season it largely sits in the belief he can blossom into what many believe he can be. Via Own The Puck, we have a perspective on the trajectory of Bennett’s career – thought he spent much of 2015-16 as a winger – so far when measured against the role of a centre:
The trials and tribulations of Bennett’s season show up not just in counting stats and points, but in terms of his on-ice impact. One thing to keep in mind is where Bennett is shooting from predominately, which is in tight. We know Bennett does have a nose for going to the net and it shows in the shot location data (via Hockeyviz.com):
Now, there’s a massive contrast to where he shoots from and his results relative to league average while on the ice, which tells a stark tale. This isn’t the ideal outcome you’d expect from a kid like Bennett, but this is the reality. In order for Bennett to be successful with the skillset he possesses, he needs to find a way to get to those high danger areas more frequently.
When we examine his shot metrics and compare them to 2015-16’s there’s some flatness to his results (5v5 data via Hockey Analysis):
Digging a little bit deeper there’s a drop off with regards to his shot generation. Part of this comes from linemates, part of this comes from usage/deployment, and part of this comes from stagnation in his sophomore season.
Ultimately Bennett needs to be shooting more or put to work in a situation that best facilitates getting the most out of him:
Most common linemates
In no surprises within extreme limited usage, Bennett reunited with Backlund and Michael Frolik to help boost the young centre into respectable shot metric territory. We saw brief snippets of decency come from the combination of Chiasson, Bennett, and Kris Versteeg which, when adjusted for score, saw the trio post a 57.4% CF at 5v5. All of this is to say – for the 10,423rd time – that the calamity of Brouwer with Bennett was reprehensible.
If the message wasn’t clear before let’s circle back to it again: in 2017-18 Santa needs to come early and give Bennett linemates that help him, not hurt his development. There’s no reason to not pursue situations internally or take advantage of cheap UFA talent that could do this very thing. Ultimately it’s possible that moving Bennett to the wing isn’t the end of the world either, providing suitable depth on the third line is found for centre.
Still, Bennett is an RFA and needs a new contract. A down sophomore season might help cost-control him for the next few years and if he can produce well above that contract then it’s a fantastic victory for the team.
The team is entering its true win now window and Bennett needs to take the necessary steps forward to be a part of it. He’s already a capable penalty killer and seeing that side of his game this season was a huge win for the team.
|#1 – Brian Elliott||#5 – Mark Giordano|
|#6 – Dennis Wideman||#7 – T.J. Brodie|
|#10 – Kris Versteeg||#11 – Mikael Backlund|
|#13 – Johnny Gaudreau||#17 – Lance Bouma|
|#18 – Matt Stajan||#19 – Matthew Tkachuk|
|#23 – Sean Monahan||#25 – Freddie Hamilton|
|#26 – Michael Stone||#27 – Dougie Hamilton|
|#29 – Deryk Engelland||#31 – Chad Johnson|
|#36 – Troy Brouwer||#39 – Alex Chiasson|
|#44 – Matt Bartkowski||#61 – Brett Kulak|
|#64 – Garnet Hathaway||#67 – Michael Frolik|
|#79 – Micheal Ferland|