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.
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.
|GAMES PLAYED||GOALS||ASSISTS||POINTS||TOI/GP||5V5 CF%||5V5 CF% REL||OZS%||PDO|
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