When the Flames selected Sam Bennett fourth overall in 2014, they figured that they had their franchise cornerstone. Regarded as the #1 overall skater by some outlets, Bennett’s burgeoning talent was too good to pass up.
The Flames are still waiting for that Bennett to show up, three seasons later.
2017-18 season summary
Bennett spent pretty much the entire season on Mark Jankowski’s wing on the third line with a rotating cast of RWs (Jaromir Jagr, Troy Brouwer, Curtis Lazar, and Garnet Hathaway all spent 100+ 5v5 minutes with him), primarily playing an offensive role with some PP2 time. The Flames tried one last time to make him a centre at the beginning of the season, but it quite clearly didn’t work out, and he went to the wing when Jankowski was recalled. The only other time he was separated from the third line was when he temporarily stepped up to be the first line RW in the absence of Micheal Ferland, and then briefly the first line C when Sean Monahan was shut down.
Generally, Bennett wasn’t expected to be the primary contributor to the team, which is kind of why he was on the third line. The Flames certainly wouldn’t have minded if he scored more frequently, but they weren’t relying on him to do so. He and his linemates were generally trusted to generate chaos in the offensive zone while lines one and two were getting rest on the bench.
|Games Played||Goals||Assists||Points||TOI/GP||5v5 CF%||5v5 CF% rel||OZS%||PDO|
Bennett either had major scoring bursts or large scoring droughts. He didn’t get his first point of the season until Game 16, but he scored his first goal the game after. He didn’t score the next six games, but then picked up six points in the next four games. His December was the high point of his season, as he picked up 10 points in 14 games, including a four-point night against the Canucks.
If you’re following the trend, you can guess what happened next: Bennett took 30 games to pick up 10 more points and finished with no points in his last 13 games.
It was not for a lack of trying. Bennett finished eighth among Flames regulars (200 5v5 minutes, 21 qualified skaters) in CF/60 at 64.19 shot attempts per hour. His 8.68 individual shots per hour ranked third on the team, and his individual corsi for was second behind Dougie Hamilton (16.02). If you look across the various individual shot metrics, Bennett is generally around the top. All of those were career highs, which is likely due to another year of growth, in addition to an offence-first role. Having the fourth worst PDO on the team definitely hurt his counting numbers.
The other side is that his defensive metrics were on the opposite end of the spectrum. His CA/60 was seventh from the bottom at 57.95 shot attempts per hour. Like you can on the offensive side, going through every shot metric would reveal that Bennett’s defensive acumen and two-way play was not great. His main fault is laziness, as best shown through the number of stick penalties he took throughout the year. As good as he can be on offence, Bennett can be equally as troublesome on defence.
All in all, even with slightly tempered expectations, Bennett’s season was disappointing. Many expected a step forward – not necessarily a gigantic leap but at least some sign of progress – but the Flames got more of the same from last year. Moving him to the wing appeared to solve the problem temporarily, but his actual results suggest the difference between him at centre and him at wing are negligible at best, which also might indicate it’s the player and not the position. He couldn’t get anything consistently going with the heaviest offensive zone time (second on the team behind Jagr) and his defensive game still needs much improvement.
Compared to last year
Bennett’s production was nearly a mirror image of last year’s production, where he had 26 points in 81 games. From a glance, that’s enough to say that he was running in place, but diving deeper reveals some interesting results.
It terms of relative impact, Bennett was still a negative on the Flames. While his CF% was lifted above 50% for the first time in his career, everyone on the Flames experienced a bump this year. At -1.28 CF rel%, Bennett was 10th on the team. That’s a minor jump from 14th place last year, but still in the negatives. Not an anchor, but not much of a driver either.
As already mentioned, Bennett reached new highs in terms of offensive shot metrics and new lows for defensive shot metrics. One step in the right direction, one step in the wrong direction. Of course moving to a sheltered, offence-first role is going to boost those numbers, but the step backwards defensively is concerning. It begs the question of how he kept getting his head kicked in despite constantly being given the high ground. His new, high-event style of play is promising on offence yet concerning on defence.
Bennett did actually progress in some areas, though you also have to weigh the context, too. His elevated offensive role provided a boost to his shooting numbers, but at the sacrifice of some already pedestrian defensive numbers.
We saw a more involved Bennett than last year, for better or worse.
What about next season?
As it was last season, we’re still waiting for that breakthrough.
It’s not uncommon for a young player to struggle early in their career, but Bennett has been plagued by inconsistency and backwards steps since arriving in the league and things don’t appear to be getting substantially better. His numbers don’t really point to him trending in the right direction as much as they point to him treading water. If you still believe in Bennett’s potential, all you really have at this point is hope that he can build on his strengths (shooting the puck, creating offensive chances) and chip away at his flaws (defensive play, baffling penalties). But that’s what’s been said for two years now.
Not to say that it’s impossible, but there’s a lot of ground Bennett has to cover before he’s anywhere close to being what people thought he could be at the draft. Will he do it all next year? No. Can we rule out a big step forward anyways? Also no. Bennett has his problems, but he could also just shed them next year. The man has never had a positive PDO in his entire career. Perhaps it’s time for some good luck for once. If he gets a little better, perhaps he finally cracks 40 points.
The offseason should impact Bennett’s role on the team next year. The Flames are still looking for RW help, and picking up a player better than Hathaway could be a shot in the arm to that third line. There’s also the potential that they don’t and Sam is forced to either step up to the plate at RW or he gets bumped up back to his rookie line with Mikael Backlund and Michael Frolik. Either seems like a good option.
In the opposite direction, there’s also the case to send Bennett packing. His name pops up in every summer trade rumour, but given the way his career has panned out thus far, there might be some legitimacy behind the chatter. He’s a guy with potential who could use a change in scenery. That’s appealing to other teams who might pony up something that gets Brad Treliving interested.
|#5 – Mark Giordano||#7 – TJ Brodie|
|#8 – Chris Stewart||#10 – Kris Versteeg|
|#11 – Mikael Backlund||#13 – Johnny Gaudreau|
|#15 – Tanner Glass||#18 – Matt Stajan|
|#19 – Matthew Tkachuk||#20 – Curtis Lazar|
|#21 – Garnet Hathaway||#23 – Sean Monahan|
|#24 – Travis Hamonic||#25 – Nick Shore|
|#26 – Michael Stone||#27 – Dougie Hamilton|
|#33 – David Rittich||#36 – Troy Brouwer|
|#41 – Mike Smith||#44 – Matt Bartkowski|
|#61 – Brett Kulak||#67 – Michael Frolik|
|#77 – Mark Jankowski||#79 – Micheal Ferland|