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Photo Credit: Kirby Lee / USA Today Sports

What are the odds?: Sam Bennett edition

Fourth overall is the highest the Calgary Flames have ever selected in the NHL draft. So when their 2013-14 season went so poorly – kind of by design – there was a fair bit of expectation to get a good player out of it. Especially because in 2014, four players were identified as being the top of the draft class, and so the Flames were guaranteed to get one of them.

Enter: Sam Bennett, who received first overall rankings throughout his draft year and fell to fourth, probably at least in part by secretly needing shoulder surgery for some time. He looked to justify those high standards when he played in the 2015 Stanley Cup playoffs, a high-caliber player who seemed a natural fit even though he was an 18-year-old who had just missed the entire season due to the aforementioned shoulder surgery.

He’s shown lots of promise and potential since then, but it hasn’t yet come together. Now, set to sign his second contract at a time the Flames are building up to become a perennial playoff team, what’s next?

Traded

It’s a possibility Bennett will be traded – but it’s not likely. As Elliotte Friedman indicated in his 30 Thoughts column (#16):

One exec indicated Calgary told them, “We’re not interested in plugging one hole by opening another.” So, if it happens, it’s going to be expensive.

The only way Bennett actually moves is if it’s to make the team better than he himself possibly could – and the book is still out on him and what he can do. Let’s remember that Bennett, as a teenager, established himself as an NHLer. Is it disappointing he only has 63 career points to date? Yes, but it’s not like that happens to any old scrub. And he was chosen at fourth overall for a reason: he likely has more to offer, and selling low on him now is not a good way to find that out down the road.

And then there’s the point Friedman’s anonymous executive made: if the Flames trade Bennett, they don’t exactly have anyone to replace him. There’s Mark Jankowski and… uh… Mark Jankowski? The Flames look pretty good down the middle in part because Bennett is there to make it so. Trading him away to upgrade the defence or goaltending really hurts the forward group, and needlessly at that. It just doesn’t make sense from any angle.

Down on the fourth line

Bennett played a bit on the Flames’ fourth line as the season was nearing its end. It was a bad idea then and would be an even worse idea for next season. Even if he’s slumping or whatever, that isn’t fixed by having one of your core pieces play with, like, Troy Brouwer. Again. Sure, Bennett has to create his own luck and be better on his own – but that’s going to be a tough ask if he’s given barely any ice time and low quality linemates.

Mikael Backlund looked a hell of a lot better with Michael Frolik on his line, not Brian McGrattan.

On the wing

It’s certainly easy to see the Flames go this route, but it may not be the best move.

Bennett is listed as both a centre and left winger. He has had most of his success in the NHL when playing on Backlund’s wing – but that’s probably more to do with playing on a line with Backlund than it is about playing the wing instead of centre.

The Flames really don’t have too many ideal options at the centre position, so taking away from the team’s centre depth to create more depth on the left wing – or to put it another way, taking from a weaker position to add to probably the strongest one – doesn’t seem like the most sensible move. It would only really make sense if the Flames wanted Jankowski playing centre in the NHL now, immediately, and Matt Stajan not taken by Vegas and still on the Flames – and really, there’s no need to give Stajan more responsibility just to force in a prospect like that. (Or to move Bennett to the wing before Stajan, even.)

One way in which moving Bennett to the wing theoretically could work is if he ends up playing alongside Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan.

But again: that still takes away from the Flames’ centre depth. And as that anonymous executive said, it doesn’t sound as though the Flames want to do that.

Up on the first line

As multiple players slumped through Glen Gulutzan’s first season, he wasn’t afraid to break up some of the sacred cow pairings. Not Backlund and Frolik – let’s not get crazy here – but Mark Giordano and T.J. Brodie were split for much of the year.

Breaking up Gaudreau and Monahan was played with as well, as Bennett ended up centring Gaudreau for some time. The duo played 191:22 5v5 minutes together. They combined on all of four goals, displaying some chemistry but not much in the way of actual results.

It could be worth exploring again – but it’s not as though Gulutzan should have any reason to break up Gaudreau and Monahan to start next season, as both should (hopefully) not miss any training camp, plus they’re actually familiar with the new system by now. They’re still the team’s top two scorers, and messing with that in hopes of creating something else doesn’t seem like the approach to take at the moment.

Though I suppose there’s the possibility of having Monahan play on the wing instead…

Middle six

This is where Bennett played most of his 2016-17 season, and where he seems likely to end up again. He would probably start off as the team’s third line centre, especially if the 3M line remains intact, but this could be flexible throughout the season – especially if things finally click for Bennett and he starts showing, on a regular basis, just why he was taken fourth overall.

What will be really interesting is just who Bennett’s linemates end up being, though, and they could go a long way towards determining how much ice time Bennett ends up with (and how many points he ends up scoring, at that). He, Alex Chiasson, and Kris Versteeg all clicked at the end of the season, but you’d hope the Flames could do a little better for Bennett (plus, it’s no guarantee Chiasson and Versteeg will even be back next season).

We’re all thinking it, though: Bennett with Ferland and Tkachuk could be a hell of a line. And if the Flames can pick up a first line winger and simply graduate a prospect to play with Backlund and Frolik, well, it would only be natural to try it out.

What’s going to happen?

I suspect Bennett will start as the Flames’ third line centre. I hope he gets an upgrade in linemates, but that remains to be seen. It would be ideal for him, though – as it would be for him to come into his own this upcoming season.

  • Puckhead

    The value of Bennett is that he can do everything – check, backcheck, fight, good passer, nice shot, good hockey IQ etc. etc. He is good value for the money with a potentially high ceiling. He is not going anywhere.

    • Kevin R

      Yup, & it is no different than with Dougie H, when they struggle the vultures circle looking for a rape & pillage. Suddenly they critique everything about their game but “we’ll do you a favour & give you this guy” which is so undervalued it’s ridiculous. At 20, Bennet goes nowhere. & yes, if Tre does his job he’ll pull off a deal like Raanta & Hayes for our 1st, Gilles & Klimchuk & then put Hayes with Johnny & Money & put Ferland with Bennett & Tkachuk & if GG was smart enough, slot Janko with Backlund & Frolik on his 1 year 200′ game training. I would love that scenario play out, no guarantees it will work but the intel we know says there is a chance it could produce some good results.

  • I’d rather leave Ferland on the top line, but Tkachuk would be a great fit with Bennett. The kid has shown the ability to play a two-way game, which is what Bennett needs on his line. The two of them could wreak havoc at the net.

  • Good article. I really wouldn’t mind seeing Bennett back on the wing with Backlund and Frolik. This wouldn’t be at the expense of Tkachuk, but rather with the hope he could move up and play with Gaudreau and Monahan. If the team’s top 6 could actually play in the top 6, and you could get a capable 3rd line centre (I don’t have high hopes Lazar or Jankowski are it) to play with, say, Versteeg and Ferland, that would be pretty ideal.

  • Matty Franchise Jr

    Johnny – Monny – Ferky
    Janko – Mickis – The Fro
    Tchucky – Benney – Steeger
    Mangi/Shinky – Stajan/Lazar – Klimchuk/Poirier

    Versteeg re-signed, obviously. Bouma to Stockton. Brouwer to VGK (please).

    Gio – Dougie
    Kulak – TJ
    Fat Ras/Oli – Bartkowski

    If a D better than Bart is signed or traded for, then he goes to Stockton.

  • Jobu

    Hoping we see a vast improvement this year. Can’t wait for this kid to start becoming a legitimate threat. Bridge him to a decent 3 year deal and give him TONNES of ice time.

  • Bilman

    I haven’t bothered to see if these guys can play RW or LW, but what would be ideal is to Move Tkachuk up to the 1st line, Move Bennet to LW on the 2nd line, Add Jankowski to the 3rd line:

    Gaudreau Monahan Tkachuk
    Bennett Backlund Frolik
    Versteeg Jankowski Ferlund
    Brouwer Lazar Chaisson

    This is making the assumption that Stajan gets taken in the Expansion Draft, and Bouma is either sent to Stockton or sitting in the press box.

        • Raffydog

          Just because you don’t agree with something, doesn’t make it trolling. I’m just saying, I’ve seen a ton of comments on here that Jankowski should centre his own line, and some even saying that Bennett should be on Jankowskis wing. But what makes you think he is a better centre then Bennett? At least Bennett has experience playing centre in the NHL, where as with Jankowski, we have no idea what he can do. Sure he may come in and score 100 points, at the same time he can come in and completely fizzle out, so before you pencil him in as a centre, maybe we should wait and see what exactly we have in this guy

          • OKG

            There’s this thing called eyes. Some of us have watched Jankowski play since he was a 168lb stick. He’s a pure centre in every sense – instinct, puck-carrying ability, two-way play.

            I can say with confidence that the only centre who is clearly better at the centre position in the Flames organization is 28 year old Backlund. I think Bennett is going to be a heck of a centre and it’s ridiculous to move him to wing, but that is besides the point that in Mark Jankowski we have a young Jean Beliveau or Anze Kopitar ready to take the league by storm.

      • Bilman

        Also agreed that he has to prove he can be there. If not, you may have to move him to wing, or send him back down. Also, this assumes that Stajan gets picked up by Vegas, and that’s a bit of a reach. My point is that I’d like to see Bennet on the 2nd line with Backlund. He seems to help get players going. Also, Tkachuk on the 1st line over Ferland. I like Ferland, but I’m still not 100% sold that he is a 1st line winger (I hope he proves me wrong).

    • Puckhead

      Sorry but any lineup with Brouwer in it just doesn’t do it for me. Plus Lazar on the same line is probably not a good thing do their combined possession numbers.

      • Bilman

        Agreed, but I just don’t know what you do with Brouwer. I doubt you can trade him. As was in a previous article, I think you have to start out with a lot of hope that last year was just a bad year. If he starts to play well (aka Wideman a few years ago), you dump him as fast as possible.

  • Southboy

    I personally think trading him for a solid 4D on a good contract far outweighs the pro’s of hoping for sam to become something, and in the meantime our defence is a 3headed monster, than absomute hot garbage, and we keep ruining good goalies like the boilers did in their decade of darkness.

  • Rexx

    I agree with the entirety of this article and the comments by Flames brass.

    A 20 year old with an incredible upside, who’s skill is backed up by tenacity and grit?
    He’s a perfect young stud to build around. I firmly believe that this year we saw a Sam who was more hesitant due to a system change and his creativity was stifled a bit due to his emergence as a true center anchoring garbage for a majority of the season.
    You don’t dangle a player like Bennett for a 4D or a stop gap to fill a hole in your lineup – I am among the belief that once he regains his confidence in his role within GG’s systems and gets some talent to play with, he will be among the brightest stars in Calgary.

    Now excuse me while I have a Bennett name plate put on my blank Flames jersey.

  • Southboy

    So Puckhead, continuing with a bad defense outside of our top 3 ( which is tops in the leauge ) which can be partially the problem with our goalies being shelled, is the way to go? Or would it be good asset management to trade someone who league wide is considered to have a high upside ( key word upside ) for a really good package. Eg: #4D, and a pick and or prospect.

    Lets say argument sake Bennet flourishes to be a 55pt/year player, that iffense can be replaced with 1 30pt guy on a cheap contract,

  • Southboy

    Plus shoring up our, ( minusing 20pts/year against ) and also building more team confidence, and goalie confidence. Just thinking the pros in this case out weigh losing a ‘potential’ 50pt guy. But thats just my take as a fan of competitive well rounded teams with depth.

  • Southboy

    So if having my own opinion about how I as an arm chair GM would do it is ‘trolling’ than i am sorry that your superior opinion is far and away better than anyone elses.

    • Raffydog

      See I think Bennett can be one of those guys you need on your team to have success, especially in the playoffs. If he regularly puts up 50 points a season, that’s great, but it’s the intangibles that he brings that make trading him away something we would regret down the road. He can check, he can fight, he can score, and he plays with a lot of heart, he’s like a pit bull on the ice, all the things we need to have success

    • Puckhead

      My apologies if you weren’t trolling but if you go back and read it you have to admit the the wording was pretty harsh. As far as my superior opinion goes I will state that trading Bennett for a #4 D is not a good idea. Good young centres with unknown potential are a lot harder to find than #4 D. Also very poor asset management to move Bennett now before you know what you’ve got.

  • Southboy

    I absolutely agree about all the intangibles Raffy Dog, and i believe he will be a really good playoff performer, just worried we stay plateau’d when it comes to being strong defensively?

    And Rexx i also agree with the stop gap comment, i should have been more clear, if we could get a solid 4D on a nice 5 year contract and add a late 1st or early 2nd round pick, that can turn into a Guenztal type guy, i think those out weigh having no defensive depth.

    On that note i would rather trade something else to get what we need, but in todays NHL a solid 4D is worth more than say a Lazar and 2nd rnd pick kind of package to get one.

  • freethe flames

    Bennett is trending to be like Backs; he will have more offensive upside sooner and has a bit of a snarl. Play him with better players; say Tkachuk and whom ever we can add and things get rosier in a hurry. We have to stop thinking in 1st line second lines ect and start having 4 lines that can play and contribute at both ends.

  • Raffydog

    You want to improve defensively, stop trying to give Bennett away, and package Gaudreau for a top dman and probably some picks. Sure we’ll lose 60 points a year, but we can have one of the best d corps in the league, plus some picks which we sorely need, that can be used to land one of these goalies we covet, plus maybe even a Nino, or Hayes, or whoever. There was an article on here earlier that said we have the most depth at LW, so would we really miss Guadreau all that much? I don’t think so