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Photo Credit: Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports

Realistic expectations for Sam Bennett in year three

At some point before the start of training camp, the Calgary Flames and Sam Bennett will agree to a new contract. Sure, a deal hasn’t been agreed to as of yet, but I don’t think there’s anything to worry about on that front. Part of what has held discussions up, though, is uncertainty about what the Flames have in Bennett and how he projects going forward. With two decent, but not spectacular, seasons under his belt, should we be expecting a big jump from Bennett in year three?

While not out of the question, it’s not something I’d be banking on.

The story so far

Compared to lots of players in their 19- and 20-year-old seasons, Bennett’s first two years in the NHL have been just fine. Fair or unfair, though, being Calgary’s highest ever draft pick carries with it higher expectations than many other young players. As such, some see Bennett’s first two NHL seasons as disappointing, which I think is slightly harsh. Yes, young teammates like Sean Monahan, Johnny Gaudreau, and Matthew Tkachuk have been more productive to this point, but that doesn’t mean Bennett has been bad, either.

Productivity wise, Bennett’s first two NHL seasons look like this:

2015-2016: 77 GP, 18 G, 18 A, 36 PTS
2016-2017: 81 GP, 13 G, 13 A, 26 PTS

And from an underlying perspective, here’s what we’ve seen from Bennett:

Bennett actually enjoyed a more productive rookie season than Monahan did, finishing with more points and a higher even strength points-per-60 rate. Despite a pair of extended goal scoring droughts, Bennett’s inaugural campaign was generally positive and expectations were high coming into last year. In fact, there was a great deal of excitement during training camp when Bennett looked like a driving force on a line with Tkachuk and Troy Brouwer. That line didn’t last long, though, and Bennett struggled to produce playing down the middle full time.

If we’re using the word disappointing, it does apply to the drop in production, both counting and underlying, we saw from Bennett in year two. If you compare rookie seasons, Bennett’s was slightly superior to Monahan’s. However, when you juxtapose what we saw from each player in their second seasons, the scale swings dramatically in Monahan’s direction.

Season two saw Monahan start to develop into a top flight centre who could be deployed against, and score against, top players on the other side; since his rookie campaign, Monahan has developed into a perennial 60-point player. For Bennett, though, year two saw steps back all over the board. He was given more offensive zone starts without a commensurate bump in possession rates and his scoring dropped significantly.

Because they were high picks taken one year apart, Bennett and Monahan are often grouped together. I don’t actually think it’s a great comparison for Bennett, though, for a couple different reasons. First, since year two, Monahan has consistently centred one of the league’s most dynamic offensive players in Gaudreau. There’s no doubt Gaudreau’s influence is large and the WOWY outputs are telling in that regard (for another article at another time).

Monahan has also seen substantially more time on the powerplay when compared to Bennett. For instance, Monahan averaged 2:50 of powerplay time per game in his second NHL season. In Bennett’s second season, that number was more than cut in half, as he averaged 1:14 of powerplay time each night. While it doesn’t affect their even strength scoring rates, powerplay time is obviously going to boost raw point totals. Ten of Monahan’s 31 goals in 2014-15 came on the powerplay, compared to four for Bennett last season.

There are better and more realistic comparisons. Going back to our RFA profile on Bennett from late April, this is the group of similar players I came up with using CapFriendly’s comparable tool. The table below charts aggregate totals for each player in the two years leading up to their second contracts.

While Flames fans would love to see Bennett in the same conversation with fellow 2014 picks like Leon Draisaitl, David Pastrnak, or even Nikolaj Ehlers, the fact is that’s not realistic. Instead, the grouping above is a closer composite of what we’ve seen from Bennett in his first two years. In saying that, all four of the above players have made larger impacts on their teams than Bennett has on Calgary.

What to expect

Projecting year three for Bennett is not an easy exercise because there are a decent number of unknown factors. We’ll do the best we can, though, and we’ll start by looking at what we saw in year three from the four players we’ve deemed realistic comparables.

With the exception of Tatar, who took a slight offensive step back, each player saw their point totals improve from year two to year three. That’s promising news for Bennett, and it would make sense to see him rebound from his difficult 2016-17 campaign. I’m not talking about him doubling his point totals, but going from 26 to 40 points isn’t out of the question at all.

So much of this conversation relies on what position Bennett plays and who he plays with. If the Flames stick with him down the middle, a big jump in numbers will be a little more difficult. As a centre, Bennett is clearly third on the depth chart behind Monahan and Mikael Backlund. On the one hand, that’ll free him up for less difficult head-to-head matchups. Conversely, though, playing Bennett at centre would decrease his ice time as opposed to him playing the wing, and might cut into his powerplay usage, too.

Furthermore, Bennett just hasn’t looked comfortable playing down the middle. Defensively he’s been fine, but Bennett has struggled with the distribution responsibilities and quick decisions that go along with the position. If that continues, I’m not expecting his numbers to take giant steps forward.

If Calgary decides to use Bennett on the wing, though, things get really interesting. For instance, what might he be able to do on a line with Monahan and Gaudreau if Micheal Ferland doesn’t fit the bill? I’ve always felt Bennett has looked far more dangerous and explosive when playing on the flank. With the burden of playing centre lifted, he’s been able to focus far more on using his offensive gifts. If I had my druthers, I’d be playing Bennett on the wing, but I’m not sure that’s the way Calgary is leaning.

Conclusion

It’s true: Bennett’s first two years in the NHL haven’t been of the spectacular variety. He certainly hasn’t put together the types of early seasons we’ve seen from other top five picks, but that doesn’t mean it’s anywhere close to cut bait time. Similarly, any talk of him being a “bust” is a little absurd at this point. There’s reason to be patient and a teammate of his is a good example of why.

Below is a season-by-season look at Backlund’s production starting with his rookie season. After a decent start, it took a while for Backlund to start producing at a solid rate. In fact, it took until years five, six, and seven for his scoring to get to a consistent level. It’s important to note that throughout his seven NHL seasons, though, Backlund’s possession metrics have always been strong, and that’s an area Bennett needs to show improvement in. Even so, the Flames were patient with Backlund and it has paid off in a big, big way. Bennett probably deserves a similar approach.

I have no clue if Bennett will progress in a similar fashion as Backlund. Maybe it’ll be quicker and maybe it won’t ever get to that level, who knows. I do know that being patient with Bennett is probably the right tactic at this point, though. As much as we like to make fun of the constant age references applied to him, Bennett is still just 21 years old. Giving up on him at this early a stage doesn’t make much sense.

But if Calgary is going to be patient with Bennett, fans probably should be, too. To expect him to double his point totals from last year is fairly unrealistic, especially if the team uses him as their number three centre. What is realistic, though, is gradual improvement in his all-around game and a step forward offensively. I think that’s a fair projection for Bennett in year number three.

  • Skylardog

    My concern is that GG starts the season with Bennett centering Brouwer. Doesn’t matter who else is on the line, he will be dragged down. Flames will try to get Brouwer going out of the gate, and with who they face in the first 13 games that could be bad for the Flames and Bennett. If they don’t get Brouwer going he will be a buyout at the end of the season and on our books for 4 more years. That alone will mean he gets icetime, and GG will put him on a line with Bennett.

    The drop in season 2 should not be on Bennett – it is on GG. How much money did GG cost Bennett last year by giving him subpar linemates. He should have been signing for $6.0 for 6 seasons after posting 50+ points, instead he gets burned and is having to fight to get $2.5 for 2.

    If the Flames start bad you will see Bennett traded away, and it could be the best thing that ever happened to him. This will be interesting to watch as the season starts.

  • class1div1

    Sometimes you just have to throw away the past history.Benett needs some good teammates ,plain and simple.If Calgary cant come up with them,he.ll likely want to go somewhere else.GG use of Bennett last year was horrible.I hope management has a plan that sets him up for success.I wont give GG a pass until he proves he is up to the task of solidifying Bennett as a top 6 NHLer.

    • BringtheFire 2.0

      Good players make their line better, regardless of who they are, and as for teammates, you’re saying Johnny, Sean, all the Matts, Gio, Brodie…not good teammates?

      And it’s Bennie’s job to get his own success.

      It’s put up or shut up for Bennie, IMO.

      • Eggs Bennett

        Monahan only started getting 60+ pts when playing with Gaudreau. Even then, the two struggled last season without a decent RW to complete their lineup. Draisaitl only got close to ppg riding shotgun to McDavid. Bennett was shafted with Brouwer and limited PP time. His best line mate was Versteeg (who mind you, got plenty of PP looks). The Crosbys and Malkins and Toews and McDavids are not your typical crop of top line players, and it shouldn’t be expected that Bennett be required to succeed while not being put in a position to succeed.

  • Fan the Flames

    To be fair to Sam he just started to get ćomfortable part way through last season . His skating grit and ability to score will make him a force for years to come . He looks good with Versteeg and he needs a gritty player on the other wing Chuckie or Poirier come to mind . I hope he is not bogged down with Brouwer again he needs to play a speed game to be effective . In his 2nd season with this staff he should look a lot more comfortable.

      • The Real Slim Brodie

        I guess you’ve witnessed alot of sucking over the years…i almost believe you but the your just a troll who cheers for a team that single handedly changed the lottery format forever

      • TriPPiNvdUb

        What, Bennett sucks? why didn’t anyone tell us that before we drafted him? I mean, we told you that Yakapov sucks and that Hall, Nuge, puljujärvi, Nurse, Reinhart were over rated and that Plante, Shremp, Niinimaki, Paajarvi, Gange, Nash, Lynch, Pouliot, Mikhnov were all going to be busts (well maybe we didnt tell you about all of them but we were laughing at you)

        When your shooting fish in a barrel, eventually your going to hit one. Maybe it will take the better part of 2 decades but I mean, come on, your bound to get one, right?

  • Eggs Bennett

    Draisaitl + McDavid = $21M
    Gio + Hamilton + Brodie + Hamonic = $21.07M
    …yeah pretty sure we got the better deal here.

    Also, I stand by my prediction of Bennett out scoring Draisaitl at a third of a cap hit this year.

    • Mr. J

      Only the most average team in NHL history would seriously pass on taking mcdavid (best player in the league) over the 4 men named. Throw in Draisitial and you’d have to be off your rocker to still pass … Or just Jealous

    • Mr. J

      Bennett out score Draisaitl. Lol omg you guys really are delusional.

      Draisaitl has been dubbed the best puck protector right up there with Jumbo Joe Thornton in his prime.

      And you think a guy who can’t lift his own body weight.(as in can’t complete a single chin up lmao) will miraculously be in the top ten in scoring this year. Drai will be Again. This is going to be a fun year.

      • TheoForever

        Clearly delusional but up to your normal standard, ignoring facts as in Bennett needing shoulder surgery and having been able to do 10+ since. Facts are never a strong point with the welfare junkies from the dumpster up north, you will never hear them admit to shamelessly tanking for instance.
        Dubbed the best you say, after one year of riding mickyD’s cocktails, typical coiler delusions of grandeur, you should wait and see if he can drive a line on his own. It is well established drysaddle is a coward that cannot stand up for himself, let alone for one of his teammates. I got one question, – did Lucic teach him how to spear players in the nuts?

    • Shameless Plugger

      hahahahahahah I was with you until you said Bennett would outscore Leon this year. Leon’s second best season would represent a carreer year for slim Bennett. If Slim Bennett turned sideways we’d all lose sight of him. Get real bud, Bennett couldn’t hold drai’s jock. But I’m sure him and Jenny could snuggle quite nicely inside of it. Flames for life they’d be. Always and forever 💋😍💋😍💋

      • Shameless Plugger

        Jealous of my McCrush. If you only had a generational talent to swoon over you might understand. Only you have marginal talent to fap fap fap obe. The exact thing we tried to build off of for years, but didn’t work. Before you go all “lottery” on me we didn’t have the best odds of winning Mcdavid. We just take what’s rightfully ours. Generational talents ( Gretz and Mc-D) and leave you with the leftovers. Jealousy is so fun from this side. Suck it long and hard fLamer boys and gals. Yehawww say hello to grandma. I know she’s askin about me.

        • TheoForever

          a..plug – “We just take what’s rightfully ours” – yeah that’s what social equalization does to individuals. Bottom feeding coiler chimps used to NHL handouts, feeling a little entitled………

    • Jumping Jack Flash

      I love it when a Bennett article makes Troilers think we care what the have to say. Big Friday night trolling FN boys….what is on the docket for Saturday night…maybe crank calling a nunnery. You be you…

        • TheoForever

          You people were always yapping, every summer just wait until next year. And idiotic media was pumping your tires, only to be shocked with yet another ping pong ball… not much has changed……

  • Jumping Jack Flash

    The best way for Bennett to have a significant jump in points is if we break up the 3M line and surround him with Tkachuk and Versteeg. He may need to move to wing to get the top 6 minutes he requires.

        • Northernlights

          You’re right! Flamers were so cocksure that Bennett was going to be the best from that draft and now there is no way if they did a re-draft that Draisaitl is not #1 overall!

          • Atomic Clown

            F*** off. No one wants you here. You’re a sad old troll whose highlight of the day is spouting baseless nonsense. You add absolutely nothing to this forum; most people’s problem here is not with the oilers, but with sad little sack of s***ts like yourself.

          • OKG

            Give it two years. 80 point Bennett, 85 point Tkachuk, 70 point Jankowski, 95 point Gaudreau, 65 point Monahan, 55 point Backlund…. meanwhile Draisaitl will regress to rookie 9 point Draisaitl without Taylor and Connor on his line to make him look good lmao Chris Kunitz 2.0

          • TheoForever

            dimlights, you got to admit drysaddle sucked for a while, and he can still be an overpaid bust, your list of failures is long, aren’t you a little worried after the 6×6 busts failed to live up to the hype.
            Who gives a guy 8×8.5 after one good year………., don’t answer that one, we know it is the trinity of suck and Chia puppet.

      • Mr. J

        The flames still have to sign kulak and Bennett and only have about 6 mill to do so. Oilers roster is already complete for the upcoming season and we still have 6 mill available in cap space.

        Now that’s bad especially when you compare the 2 rosters. Lol but ya ya little scared Jonny will get 100 points, Bennett will get 90, Hamonic will finish tops in corsi instead of last like last year, grandpa smith will turn into a vezina candidate instead of being in the Bottom 5 of goalie stats, Brodie will Win the Norris.

        Wishful thinking much lol

  • The Sultan

    Can the mods permanantely IP ban this loser, please? I bet there a lot of people who visit this site that are sick of this sh!t and it needs to stop now. I can’t speak for other people but I know I’d be posting a lot more if every single post on Flamesnation didn’t have these two or three idiots running around.

    I don’t care how you behave on other Nations pages.

    If you’re a jerk you should lose privileges to post on any forum under any name, end of story. Jesus.

    • TriPPiNvdUb

      Wow, your so witty Mr J, have you been spending the last decade hiding in the darkness writing zingers in hopes that one day your team will become relevant again?

      I have a joke for you…

      One day Chi and the Nudge were at the movies, Chi looked at Nudge and said go hold our seats and ill get us some snacks. So after waiting for what seemed like forever Chi finally got to the counter and he ordered 2 med popcorn’s and 2 diet sodas, he collected his order and headed towards the theater when he was suddenly stopped by a familiar voice. “Hey Pete” said Treliving “that sure is allot of popcorn for one man” “oh this?” replied Chi “Its nothing, I got this for the nudge” “oh said Tre “well its a hell of allot more then you got for Hall and Eberle

  • Sound_Defence

    At what point does the team accept the fact that not every player picked for his position ends up playing that position in the show. So is he center or winger money? I think that’s what’s holding up contract negotiations. Sam’s shoulders are not wide enough nor strong enough to pull the weight of both wings on his line.

  • Just.Visiting

    We need to see how he plays with two good line mates and better use. He needs to stop taking undisciplined penalties and play more consistently. The story remains to be told, but my expectations are much lower than they had been that he was our long term elite centre.