There has been a lot of internet electricity spent on wondering what the heck is up with Sam Bennett over the past two seasons. I am guilty of if myself, it’s a tantalizing subject to be sure. At this early stage in his career, I think that a fair position is “let’s all just friggen relax and let this thing play out for a bit,” but allow me to not do that for a little bit here.
One of the most frequent topics of discussion surrounds whether or not Bennett should be playing centre and many options have been discussed for him so far. I still think that it is entirely possible that Bennett will turn into a very good NHL centreman one day, but I am just not sure if that is going to be this season.
However, what if Bennett was moved to the wing, not simply because he hasn’t really produced at centre, but because the Flames need additional help on the wing?
During our Slack Sunday discussion, we discussed some of the options for Bennett and both Christian Tiberi and Christian Roatis discussed the viability of moving Bennett to a wing and the Flames’ lack of options at the RW spot, even with the addition of Jaromir Jagr. As Tiberi noted, Bennett’s play at centre hasn’t been all bad this year. In fact, despite a minuscule sample, the Versteeg – Bennett – Jagr line has managed a CF% of 60.1, which is certainly not bad.
This discussion, like seemingly every discussion on this website, has an important connection to Mark Jankowski. The Flames are probably tempting the injury gods at this point by keeping him in the AHL. After his good camp and hot start to this season, Jankowski has certainly done enough to merit a longer look. You already know that. A lot of people have already said that.
However, perhaps if/when Mark Jankowski is given a chance at a call-up, that could be the moment to give Bennett an extended look at wing. To question the efficacy of moving your franchise’s highest draft pick out of his natural position to give Jankowski a look at centre is fair, but if Jankowski was ever to be given a chance in the lineup, burying him on the fourth line makes no sense to me.
This is one reason that sending Jankowski down when the season started made sense to me, given the already twisted logic that a fourth line needed to have Tanner Glass on it. While I am free to long for the day when the Flames are able to roll four functional lines, currently that isn’t really the organizational logic. Belief in the viability of Glass et al remains strong and, as such, calling up Jankowski to centre a line with two of Matt Stajan, Freddie Hamilton, Curtis Lazar, Tanner Glass, or Troy Brouwer on it, well, doesn’t make a ton of sense.
It is important to note that, in order for this to happen, one body from the current lineup would need to be removed (unless Micheal Ferland’s injury is more serious than just day-to-day, which doesn’t seem to be the case). Operating under the assumption that Ferland will be fine after four days off, for argument’s sake, let’s imagine that Freddie Hamilton clears waivers and Jankowski is called up at some point in the future. It’s entirely possible that the call-up will come due to an injury in the future, making this discussion pointless, but let’s imagine the call is due to Jankowski’s merit rather than circumstantial desperation.
In that case, and forgive me for posting another theoretical lines list, but:
- Gaudreau – Monahan – Jagr
- Tkachuk – Backlund – Frolik
- Bennett – Jankowski – Versteeg
- Who – Really – Cares
With apologies to Ferland, who is good and is certainly not as bad as this season’s start has looked, as long as the fourth line is constituted like this, there is no reason to put much thought into it. We all know exactly what to expect from it.
The impetus to move Bennett to the wing then comes not out of a desire to give up on him as a centre altogether, it would be to help out the Flames on the wing and allow Jankowski to get a fair shake when he’s given a shot. To my thinking, the worst case scenario for Jankowski is a call-up, eight fourth line minutes for a couple of games, bounced around to the wing with Stajan as centre, then eventually returned to Stockton.
The sad truth is without one of Emile Poirier, Spencer Foo, Hunter Shinkaruk, Marek Hrivik, or Morgan Klimchuk emerging as viable options, the Flames’ options on the wing are not good at all. The most NHL-ready player they’ve got at the moment happens to be a centre and Bennett hasn’t had a great deal of success there. So, if Bennett can become a reliable NHL winger, that would be valuable for the franchise as well. Plus, it would give the Flames an opportunity to see what Jankowski could do without burying him on the fourth line.