57Sam Bennett

FlamesNation Player Evaluations: Sam Bennett

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:

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:

On-ice impact

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):

Season  CF%  CF60  CA60  FF%  FF60  FA60  SF%  SF60  SA60
2016-17 48.7% 49.76 52.33 48.8% 36.68 38.45 48.6% 26.29 27.75
2015-16 48.8% 54.62 57.34 48% 38.60 41.87 48.5% 27.83 29.50

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:

Season iCF60 iCF iFF60 iFF iSF60 iSF
2016-17 10.94 179 8.62 141 6.48 106
2015-16 12.00 194 8.97 145 6.56 106

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.

What’s next?

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

  • DKramer

    Really liked Bennett when the Flames drafted him. Hoping for a great season from him after we lock him up to a deal that reflects his past 2 seasons. Could get tremendous value. The guy was ranked #1 in his draft year by central scouting. It’s time he gets some positive linemated and shows his potential!

  • Cam Notlaw

    How much of the Flames success next year depends on up and coming players improving?
    I feel like Monahan, Gaudreau, Ferland and Tkachuk will at least match their point totals. The amount Bennett improves his point totals will really impact the Flames secondary scoring. Let’s hope Brouwer is not on his line.

      • country mac

        JG will get his 60 with a possible increase. Seems like D have stopped chasing him and are playing more positional for him. 65 points is reasonable. More is possible.

        Ferlund is intersting. Should be some growth.

        Monahan is what he is. Not likely to progress offensively more.

        Tkachuk, now has video on his game, and the way he plays has put him in the spotlight, good or bad. This means teams are watching him. Not that there wont be progress in his game next year but offensively there is likely to be a sophmore slump. Odds are probably a small regression offensively or the same point total. If SM and JG dont produce and MT gets more offensive time or zone starts, than an increase is likely.

        • country mac

          If the team is going to worry about giving Bennett players and not what is best for there overall game, the flames arent going to win. Bennett needs offensive time for development, but he isnt doing his part and his linemates need to stop being blamed. Getting a 3rd line center or an average 2nd line winger may be disappointing for a 4th overall but is still useful for your team.

        • Jumping Jack Flash

          Johnny will get back to PPG Player if he works his tail off in the off- Season. He needs 10 lbs of muscle which would address the necessary strength in his shot. Personally, I would be surprised I’d Johnny had a season with this low of totals again with the Flames. Teams can figure out a player temporarily but it rarely lasts.

  • Raffydog

    If the Flames are going to keep Gaudreau around, I’d like to see Bennett be his centre. The few times they played together, there seemed to be some good chemistry between them. And unlike Monahan, Bennett isn’t afraid to go to the hard areas and fight for the puck, which could help give JH more room

    • L13

      Which 18-year-old did they ‘push’ into the NHL? Tkachuk had a very successful D+1 season and actively contributed to us making the playoffs. Him spending the season running up the score in the OHL would have been useless for his development and bad for the Flames.

      Monahan and Bennett both performed above replacement level as rookies and had relatively successful seasons that gave everyone good reason to believe they belonged in the NHL and were on track to improve. Monahan built on that and is now a 60-point centre (whatever his flaws). Bennett took a step back.

      I don’t see how this proves the Flames should have kept Monahan and Tkachuk in the OHL in years in which they contributed positively to the team (which is what your appeal not to ‘push’ them into the NHL would have amounted to)… or even how it means they should have held Bennett back. What is your evidence he would have had a better season if he’d been in the OHL in 15-16?

    • country mac

      stop blaming the line mates, This was an elite player in junior and a top 5 pick. He needs to take accountability or he will not be an nhl player.

      There are currently 15 players from the draft that have a higher points per game than bennett, and only two that you could disqualify on a small sample size. He is young, but it is not looking good for him to reach what he was drafted for. Can he still be a useful player yes. But stop the excuses linemates might help but it just masks the problem.

      • King Quong

        The problem is his lack of confidence Bennett isn’t playing his game he’s not using his high skill with his up tempo motor, the root cause of his lack of confidence is lack of success and not being put in a position to succeed Troy Brouwer is Cancerous to his play fact! Look at when Bennett played with Backlund and Frolik for a while he built up confidence and had a 4 goal game then had a highlight reel goal against marc Andre Fleury. Give this kid a little help getting going until he believes in himself again. I never played nearly as high level obviously but when I was down on myself and didn’t mesh with my line I didn’t like touching the puck at all and immediately passed it away all the time after being frustrated with what I saw. Bennett looks to be in the same position.

      • Cfan in Van

        Being strapped to Brouwer for most of the season would make most players in the league appear to be shells of their former selves. Bennett has had his struggles, but none of the draft comparables you’re talking about had to play with Brouwer. It’s comical that you don’t think this is relevant.

      • Jessemadnote

        I agree with stopping the excuses but I disagree with your draft theory. Six players drafted below bennett are performing above his level right now: Nylander, ehlers, larkin, fabbri, pastrnak, and Arvidsson. Can you honestly say you would have honestly drafted any one of those players above him at the time?

    • country mac

      is it hate or is it just that some people would prefer a different type of offensive player. Maybe that the teams best player is a center (San Jose), maybe a few less points but a power forward (Getzlaf), an elite two way center (Kopitar, Toews). I dont think people hate Geaudrau I think people may want to maximize his value and have a different opinion on how to build a team and who to build around.

      • L13

        Ugh, conflating your old-fashioned aesthetic preferences for ~tough~ guys with player evaluation is very silly.

        Player value comes from how much someone improves their team’s goal differentials, which can be accomplished in different ways depending on position and playing style. If your best player is an offensively minded winger, he drives goal differentials (hopefully) with shot generation and/or scoring talent. If it’s an ‘elite two-way centre’ he does things slightly differently, most likely with shot generation and shot suppression. Doesn’t mean player B is inherently better than player A. It depends on who’s more effective at what he does.

        BTW, if you think Toews is the best player in Chicago, I have news for you. It’s Patrick K*ne, the soft undersized winger.

        You would have done better to use Bergeron, a far superior player, as an example, but guess what? The Bruins’ best player this season was another undersized winger, Brad Marchand.

    • Raffydog

      Dude Gaudreau is garbage, can’t backcheck, can’t forcheck, whenever his line is on the ice, they’re basically shorthanded as Gaudreau just hangs out by centre ice, hoping for a breakaway pass, and he can’t score on breakaways. If you’re an undersized player in the NHL, you have to have a bigger heart then everybody else, and JH has no heart.

      • Cfan in Van

        At least be realistic. If this is actually what you think, then there isn’t a Flames fan out there who is going to give your crap opinion any weight. There’s really no point in wasting your time typing.

        • Raffydog

          Well tell me then, what does he bring to the team? Im sure we could find a player who puts up 50 point seasons for half of what he makes. He isn’t a leader in the dressing room, and he’s a liability on the ice. I don’t understand what fans love about him so much. He held the team hostage for an extra million a year, then proceeded to stink the dome out with his play. So tell me, what does he bring to the table that nobody else can, cause I don’t get it

  • everton fc

    If we sign Nino, our third lien would most likely be Ferland/Bennett/Versteeg. That would be a good third line, and would help Bennett. If he moves to LW, and we keep Ferland w/Gaudreau and Monahan, then you could have Bennett/Jankowski/Versteeg, which may also be a very good, albeit a very inexperienced line.

    I have total faith Bennett will be a very good player here for a long time.

      • Cfan in Van

        He played one game and was fine. ONE GAME, with very limited minutes and circumstances. So it just seems like you’re here to dump all over the entire team…

      • Jumping Jack Flash

        Wow….having a bad day. If Janko can’t s score a goal in his 11 minutes of NHL time…dump him. Guentzal scored on his first 2 goals on his first 2 shots in the NHL… That should be the standard.

  • freethe flames

    I said it the other day but I will repeat it again today; I see Bennett trending to be like Backlund; starts and stops building to be a good 200 foot player. I think Bennett might get to the offensive upside a little sooner but he will also bring his own snarl to the role. BT needs to get hims signed and a 2 year bridge contract would be idea. In two years we will have a much better idea of what he is.

  • OKG

    22 year old Evgeny Kuznetsov only scored 37 points when he had to babysit Troy Brouwer.

    Think about that for a while. Kuznetsov, who is probably a lock to score 65+ next season at age 25.

  • Stu Cazz

    What is never mentioned about Bennett was his major shoulder surgery that set him back a year. At the age of 20 this kid will develop into a very good hockey player…patience required.

  • Puckhead

    I like Bennett and think he has a much higher ceiling. A line of Gudreau – Bennett – Tkachuk would be interesting. Gudreau has the skill but could use some guys with complimentary skill sets who could ride shotgun for him.

    Obviously, this would jettison Monahan into purgatory – sell high?

  • Florescent Oil Orange

    No troll here just an objective opinion from the 780 area code. I’ve read a few comments about JG. Kind of reminds me of hemsky. There are differences of course. Both incredibly talented both too small. JG will carve him self out a career no doubt. I hope for your sakes and the boa which at this point is only a distant memory that he can live up to that contract