FlamesNation player evaluation: Sam Bennett

The 2018-19 regular season was a wildly successful one for the Calgary Flames, with multiple players having career best seasons. One such player who originally looked like he would be a real cornerstone piece for the organization, was not able to reach those similar heights. However, that doesn’t mean that Sam Bennett had a bad season, just a much quieter one anyone would have hoped for when he was selected fourth overall in 2014.

2018-19 summary

As was the case from a year before, Bennett spent most of his playing time on the third line left wing position alongside Mark Jankowski. Under new head coach Bill Peters however, Bennett underwent more movement up and down the lineup, due to the lack of success from James Neal and the coaches’ mistrust of Michael Frolik. In fact, the three man unit that Bennett spent the most time with was when he filled in for Frolik on the second line alongside Mikael Backlund and Matthew Tkachuk, and never really looked too horribly out of place.

Once the 3M line was reconnected for the majority of time, Bennett went back to playing on the third line with Jankowski as well as the struggling Neal. Surprisingly, the line stayed above water, though wasn’t ever a really strong scoring threat. After Neal was forced out of the lineup in February, Austin Czarnik took that the RW spot. The line never looked back, and was the best performing line that Bennett was a part of this season.

BENNETT – JANKOWSKI – CZARNIK 62.16 40.00 63.94 58.46
BENNETT – JANKOWSKI – NEAL 50.98 37.50 50.85 56.70
TKACHUK – BACKLUND – BENNETT 55.43 52.63 53.60 61.42

The trio of Bennett, Jankowski and Czarnik actually lead the team in CF% and would dominate whenever on the ice together, generating havoc the opposing teams, even after the scoring had gradually dried up for the line heading into the playoffs. Anytime Neal was put on the wing of Jankowski and Bennett, they would still perform adequate from an analytical perspective, but still struggled mightily to convert their shots and chances into goals.

Bennett did show improvement as the season went along, even though it might not have been a noticeable as others did. He still is a decent shot attempt generator with 64.01 shot attempts per hour, 7.31 individual shots per hour, and he boasted an expected goals for rate per hour of 2.53. The Flames forward saw most of his time in sheltered minutes, and as such, he generated offence at the rate that he should have given his ideal circumstances.

71 13 14 27 13:17 53.52 -0.16 60.07 0.983

On the defensive side, Bennett saw his rates increased compared to last season, albeit not to large extent, boasting a lower shots against per hour rate of 55.58, and an expected goals against rate of 2.24. However, the question of how much was that on him or the coaching system has to be raised, since his CA/60 rate, while slightly better than last season, was fourth worst on the team. His xGA/60 rate was seventh worst. It would not be fair to say that Bennett was a defensive anchor to the team, but you would not confuse him with a defensive stalwart anytime soon.

The growth was minor, but it was still growth nevertheless.

What was very encouraging to see was how much of a bright spot Bennett in the playoffs for the Flames, considering that the team really did not have many. He channeled his 2015 playoff self and was noticeable every shift, scoring a goal and picking up 5 points in 5 games against the Colorado Avalanche in the first round. At times, it seemed that Bennett was one of the few Flames players who could drive to the net as hard as the Avs did against the Flames.

Compared to last year

The biggest issue with Bennett coming into this year from last was the lack of consistency, with the biggest indicator of that being the large dry spells of 10 or more games in 2017-18.

This season, Bennett was much less streaky, never going more than 7 games without a point throughout all of this season. He finished off the season with 27 points, up by only 1 from last season, but was able to do it in 10 less games.  His possession metrics for the most part stayed relatively close to what they were from a season ago,

Bennett’s production did see a slight increase in comparison to the previous season, with 27 points in 71 games. While not overly impressive, especially considering what some of his teammates were able to accomplish this season, there are signs of hope that he is figuring out a specific role for himself on this team.

When it comes to Bennett’s impact compared to his teammates, the Flames forward sits -0.16 CF rel%, a steady increase from last year’s rates but it still puts him 10th on the team, the same position that he held the year previous. While the he did grow as a player, the team around him had underwent even more growth.

Suffice to say, Bennett took a step forward compared to last year, but it is unclear how much of that step was due to how well the rest of the team did.

What about next season?

Stop me if you heard this before: we are still waiting for Sam Bennett to breakthrough. It now might be time to face the fact that he will not see it in his career, at least to the extent we may have all originally hoped for.

At this point in Bennett’s career, we are starting to enter the point where we must evaluate for what he is right now rather than what he could have been. Now, Bennett is a young player who is still going through the struggles of becoming a full-time contributor to a team that is looking at becoming a cup contender, but after 3 years of him not being able to return to the 30+ point plateau, it is time to accept Bennett for what he is.

Heading into the summer, the Bennett is facing his third contract negotiation. He is an RFA with arbitration rights and has underachieved during most of his tenure with the team. Brad Treliving has shown to be a patient man when it comes with most of the young players on his team, and he understands that a player’s growth is never linear.

Now, it is not out of the realm of possibility that we could see Bennett in a different uniform come October, but more likely than not the Flames will be able to lock him up for a few more years without any real trouble. With the amount of resources the Flames have invested in him, and with a promising playoffs, its likely Bennett will become a strong bottom 6 option for Flames. Even though he is not top center that we originally hoped for, that doesn’t mean he isn’t a solid option for the team moving forward.

(All stats are from Natural Stat Trick.)

2018-19 player evaluations

#4 Rasmus Andersson | #5 Mark Giordano | #7 TJ Brodie | #8 Juuso Valimaki | #10 Derek Ryan | #11 Mikael Backlund | #13 Johnny Gaudreau | #18 James Neal | #19 Matthew Tkachuk | #21 Garnet Hathaway | #23 Sean Monahan | #24 Travis Hamonic | #27 Austin Czarnik | #28 Elias Lindholm | #33 David Rittich | #41 Mike Smith | #55 Noah Hanifin | #58 Oliver Kylington | #67 Michael Frolik | #77 Mark Jankowski | #88 Andrew Mangiapane

    • Kevin R

      I too am in the dont trade camp! But if Dorian happens to decide he wants to speed up their rebuild & would take Bennett, Kyllington & our 1st for Brady, I would hate the price but I could live with it. But it would have to be a real significant player coming back. Otherwise, we keep him.

      • I really cannot see them trading Brady under any circumstance other than a huge overpay. The optics would be horrible. Trade a 4th overall that you decided to keep over the following year first rounder (could have been a 1st!) for anything less than a sure thing win would evaporate the very thin ice the management is standing on with respect to the fans.

        • Tkachuk'sLisp

          This. A late first, a guy that doesn’t score that often but plays hard, and a young, offensive defenseman who was touted as a top draft pick and then wasn’t drafted until the 2nd round isn’t enough for Brady Tkachuk.

          I see what Kevin’s doing, though.

  • CowboyBob

    I like him, he has an edge and seems to show up for the playoffs. The challenge is he doesn’t seem to use his line mates well, granted he usually doesn’t have great line mates, but even when moved up with better players he doesn’t seem to click with them.

  • freethe flames

    I’m not waiting for Bennett to arrive I think he has. He is a sound middle six two way player and anything around 30 points a year is what we should expect. He has a great motor but sometimes shows a low hockey IQ maybe it’s still being only 22 but unlike some on FN I don’t need to keep him at all costs. If he was part of a package that gets the Flames what they really need I could live with it. But yesterdays proposed deal is not what we really need. Time will tell.

    • cjc

      Winning teams aren’t built around average or even good third liners – my concern is that guys like Dube and Mangiapane will find their paths blocked. What if next season one or both is playing at a higher level than Bennett?

      I guess what I am saying is that BT should keep Bennett if he feels compelled to, but he shouldn’t hesitate to move him if the team needs a roster spot for a more productive player.

        • cjc

          Sure, Neal, and maybe Frolik, though I’d argue that Frolik was still a bit better than Mangiapane last year – whether that is true in 19-20 is an open question. Neal of course is untradeable and too toxic as a buyout right now, and Frolik is being actively shopped along with Bennett.

  • 🐃💩

    My favorite Flame. Plays with an edge, does the little things. Hasnt been given a proper opportunity to play with skilled players, and should be playing center. Reminds me of Doug Gilmour.

  • Off the wall

    Bennett is a Rubix’s Cube.
    Once he figures out how to unlock his potential, we’ll all be excited for him. When that happens, is the question.

    I hope he gets to play another season in a Flames jersey.

    Good job on the write-up Konstantin. Welcome to FN.

  • Flamesforever

    I’m thinking Sams offensive ceiling is probably low 40pt guy. Which is still a really useful piece. Guys a gamer. Remember that hit/fight he had with Nurse early this season?

    • HOCKEY83

      so basically you’re sayin that at 22 he reached his offensive capability. Have you seen the the stats history of some of the stars in this league. Some of them have taken quite a number of seasons to break out and well worth the wait. You couldn’t even pick Burns in a pool until he was 28. I think Slammin Sammy will break out over the next few seasons. who knows if that will be with the flames or not. He’s one of the few guys on the team that acrually throws hits. Getting rid of him would be a mistake.

  • Rockmorton65

    I like Sam. I’d love to see him pull it together. Maybe if he spent more time working on his game and less time on his facial hair, he’d be progressing faster.

  • Director772

    Sam has heart! plays with an edge and is fun to watch, and is one of the few that will stand up for his team mates. Paired with Brower and Neil ….hasn’t had much of a chance.

  • Cheeky

    I have finally stopped thinking of Benny as a 4th overall pick, and look at what he is on this team. Will he ever light it up, I doubt it but his versatility is what is so valuable (he won’t cost an arm and leg either). He can slot into all the lines on any given night and not look too out of place – you don’t rid of these types. Yes we are all disappointed that he isn’t lighting it up as our first line centre but as pointed out many times over, he brings that little bit of nasty with a touch of offense. His main problem is his consistency, he is very streaky yet if he were to eliminate that and be more consistent…
    There are many line combos we could throw out here on the nation but it would be good to see him with better line mates over an extended time…

  • MDG1600

    Flames management and BP know more about Benny than we do and it might be that they want to trade him coming off a strong playoff showing because his value is high. For me, how much I like Benny is a function of how much he is getting paid. If his agent is already angling for $4M + I think I would be OK trading him. If they can sign him for $3M or less keep him.

  • Rudy27

    I like the eye test on Bennett this year. I watched almost all the games, including a dozen at the Dome, and more often than not, Bennett stood out in one way or anther (and mostly in a positive light). With Monahn’s scoring touch, I wish he had the wheels and ability to drive the net like Benny. Then we’d finally have a power forward.

  • benfr

    Early in the season especially he had an incredible run of bad luck. I know they don’t keep such a stat but I’m thinking if they did he would be at or near the top in goalposts and crossbars. Continues to slowly trnd in a positive direction.

  • The Red Knight

    Ahhhhh he’s 22 let’s not label him at platue , you forgot to mention that he’s one of the hardest pound for pound hitters in the league and will whoop players 30 lbs bigger in a scrap ,stick up for all his teammates that no one else will ,maybe Hamonic but he seems to get hurt and then he stopped fighting. If you want to put a label on the 22 year old let’s call him warrior and the heart of the team . Bennett makes the rest of the team look like sissies . All hail the Bennett the mighty !!!

  • redwhiteblack

    He is just an ok NHL player. He needs to show up in the 82 games before the playoffs for me to be onboard with keeping him. Maybe 1 more year to see, however I think it will be more of the same. He will never be a game changer. He is just Benny.

    • HOCKEY83

      By that logic Monny Johnny and Tkachuk will never be playoff series winners so…off with their heads. I don’t agree with this or maybe my crystal ball doesn’t work as well as yours it’s amazing that everyone is putting Benny out to pasture at 22 years old. If he does get traded I hope it’s to a team who requires a top 6 forward and he proves everyone wrong.

  • BringtheFire 2.0

    “…and the coaches’ mistrust of Michael Frolik.”

    Which was baseless, imo. The 3M line shouldn’t have been broken up, and Frolik deserved better. Fro has always been a dependable, reliable player who lived up to his contract every single year. When he was scratched early in the year it was baffling. To me was a black eye on the coaching staff and/or management. His performance didn’t warrant being scratched. I get that someone had to sit to test out new bodies in the lineup, but that someone should have been Sam. I like Sam, but he’s never been as productive or dependable as Fro. Now, that’s not to say Fro shouldn’t be traded-this is the cap era, he’s good, and he’s in the last year of his deal- but he should have been treated better.

    Too bad the Flames don’t treat this player with dignity when they’re time with the organization was almost up. Sends the. Wrong message to potential UFA’s and trade targets.

    • 🐃💩

      The 3M line should have never been a thing this year. Tkachuk should have been on a second line. Backlund and Frolik should have been kept together on a third line.

        • Exactly. For everyone here saying Neal, Bennett, Jankowski, Czarnik, O. Ky, etc. didn’t get the opportunity on the top lines, who sits? Then do those sitting now not get their fair opportunity? It’s like some people commenting here think that our bottom six is really the top six that has been slighted by the coach and the top 6 is really just a bunch of over hyped 3rd-4th liners.

          • HOCKEY83

            I don’t think anyone is thinking that. More like there’s not enough spots on the top 2 lines for everyone to get their fair shake. And just defending the fact that some have not had their fair chance up top before you start calling them done and get rid of them. Give bennett 20 minutes a night playing with some combination of johnny monny tkachuk lindholm along with the top D pairing and see how he does before he’s put out to pasture at 22 years old. He did not too bad this past season while playing the lowest minutes per game he’s played so far in this leeague.

    • Puck Head

      Nobody cares how Frolik was dealt with. If players picked teams based on how players were dealt with there would be no teams left to choose from. Players are always falling in and out of favour with coaches and management for various reasons.

    • MDG1600

      I disagree about it being a black eye on the coaching staff. Frolik played substantially better AFTER he was benched. It would seem the coaches rightly felt that he wasn’t giving 100%.

  • Korcan

    Gotta give him til he is 25 before giving up on him. Imo, he is figuring it out. He has many intangibles that make him valuable to the team and one of these years those pucks are going to start going in for him.

    • freethe flames

      Generally agree with you on this statement but if the right deal comes along for a player we need then we should not be worried about the what if’s. Same goes for guys like Janko or Kylington.

      • KootenayFlamesFan

        I agree, it would have to be the right deal. Benny is a heart and soul guy, and if he even gets the tiniest bit of luck hes going to start putting the puck in the net. I’ve never seen a hockey player with worse luck than him. Every bounce seems to go the other way.

  • Tkachuk'sLisp

    I like Bennett and he’s a heck of a third liner that can go up and down the lineup. He’ll be like Frolik when Frolik is gone where he’s a guy that can go up and down the lineup and provide something for every line.

    • freethe flames

      Again players can be effective if they are slotted in the correct role; his development to date suggests he is a 2 way LW who plays with some grit and is better used in a defensive, complimentary role. He playing with Backs and either Mangiapnae/Dube could be an effective 2 way line which if it produces between 35-40 goals you are being well served. That would allow the Flames to experiment with two more productive lines although they would still need to add a piece or two to the top six.

  • FlamesFanFromMI

    Umm. So we are trading Benny as well? Cause he hasn’t live up to his potential? Ok. And you guys wanted to Trade Jonny, Moni and Geo cause they didn’t show up for playoffs, interesting but Benny played well in playoffs so if the criteria to trade is playoff performance then Benny shouldn’t be traded. Wow if it was up to you guys our whole team would be traded and replaced by Sutter era big guys that can’t skate or play but they are big and good for playoff hockey. Which you need to qualify AFTER regular season of 82 games.
    All sarcasm aside most of you guys have no clue about what to do in the offseason but like a belly button everyone has opinion. I can’t wait for draft day so all this nonsense of trade this, trade that, sign this nonsense is over.

  • Franko J

    I sure do like the sandpaper approach he brings to the team. Good complimentary player on the Flames and I hope they can sign him to a 4 or 5 deal this summer.