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Photo Credit: Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports

Sam Bennett’s role is becoming more clear

Sam Bennett is perhaps the most polarizing member of the Calgary Flames. Some love how hard he plays and believe there’s offensive potential yet to be unlocked. Conversely, others see flashes of promise mixed in with long stretches of general ineffectiveness. While I tend to be in the latter group, I also don’t think it’s time for Calgary to move on. In need of a new contract, Bennett looks to be an affordable forward for the Flames at worst, which isn’t a bad thing.

The story so far

So much of Bennett’s four years in the NHL has been defined by where he was drafted. Being selected fourth overall in 2014 brought with it excitement and sky-high expectations. Approaching half a decade in the league, though, I think it’s time to forget where Bennett was drafted and start looking at him for what he is. Doing so allows for an evaluation with less emotion attached.

Bennett’s fourth NHL season was very much in line with what we’ve seen from him throughout his career. Playing largely as a middle six winger, nothing about Bennett’s counting numbers or underlying metrics jumped off the page.

GP G Rank PTS Rank G/60 Rank P/60 Rank CF% Rank OZS%
71 13 9th 27 12th 0.67 11th 1.57 14th 53.5 14th 54.1

The career path for Bennett has been odd, mainly because things got off to a promising start. Bennett was a junior hockey beast prior to debuting with Calgary late in the 2014-15 campaign; he had an assist in his only regular season game and made an impact in 11 playoff appearances. Bennett followed that up with 18 goals in his first full season, but hasn’t been able to get back to those rookie totals.

Season GP G A PTS
2015-16 77 18 18 36
2016-17 81 13 13 26
2017-18 82 11 15 26
2018-19 71 13 14 27

The same is generally true from an underlying perspective, specifically when it comes to production. For whatever reason, Bennett just hasn’t been able to impact things offensively the same way he did as a rookie. It’s not like you can point to unsustainable percentages, either; while slightly higher as a rookie, Bennett’s shooting percentage has been fairly steady throughout.

Season G/60 P/60 SH% CF% OZS%
2015-16 0.86 1.67 13.2 48.7 54.0
2016-17 0.48 1.21 10.7 48.7 56.0
2017-18 0.61 1.41 7.0 52.6 59.2
2018-19 0.67 1.57 11.3 53.5 54.1

Bennett’s NHL body of work is over 300 games now and everything I’ve seen suggests the statistics above, counting and underlying, are representative of the way he’s played. He belongs in the league, he’s not “terrible” by any means, but he’s not a big time impact maker.

Of course, there are other ways that Bennett impacts a game and those can’t be completely discounted. He’s one of Calgary’s few forwards with a physical edge to his game, which has endeared him to home crowds numerous times. Bennett works hard and is consistent with that ethic; to this point, it just hasn’t paid off where it matters most.

The playoff bump

Give Bennett credit: he brings it in the post-season. While the sample size is significantly smaller, Bennett has been more effective in playoff action than in the regular season. That’s plain to see by watching and is backed up by the numbers.

Bennett has 11 points in 20 career playoff games and was the Flames’ best forward for most of their short-lived 2019 playoff run. He led the team with five points in five games against Colorado and made a far bigger impact at the most important time of year. That is a trend we’ve seen in three playoff runs for Bennett.

Game Type GP G/60 P/60
Regular season 311 0.66 1.43
Playoffs 20 1.01 1.77

What’s interesting is how people value what we’ve seen from Bennett in the playoffs. Some believe his ability to thrive in the postseason environment puts him a whole lot closer to “untouchable” than others who are more dismissive due to sample size. Where Calgary values Bennett’s playoff work likely lies somewhere in the middle.

A fair evaluation

My opinion on Bennett’s role with this team also lies somewhere in the middle. By no means do I believe an untouchable tag is warranted and I understand if the Flames see him as a potential trade piece. In saying that, I don’t believe it’s time for Calgary to move on and/or to be actively shopping him.

With a July 27 arbitration date in the offing, we’ll get clarity on Bennett’s next deal soon enough. One thing is for sure, though: we’re not talking about a massive raise on Bennett’s $1.95 million AAV from the last two seasons. Bennett may never live up to the expectations of a fourth overall selection, but he’s fine as a middle six winger on the Flames.

With Brad Treliving’s contract history, there’s a pretty good chance he’ll keep providing Calgary value for the next number of years.

    • cjc

      IIRC, Bennett didn’t play much with Brouwer (Brouwer was mostly on the fourth line). According to Natural Stat Trick, Neal was his fourth most common linemate (after Jankowski, and slightly behind Backlund and Tkachuk). Bennett only played ~30% of his 5v5 minutes with Neal on the ice. So if Bennett was “saddled” with anyone, it was Jankowski.

      Despite seeing easier opponents and more favorable zone starts, Bennett-Jankowski-X had worse underlyings and lower production than the 3M line. Yet some people are clamoring for Backlund to be demoted/traded and Bennett-Jankowski promoted to second line duties. It makes no sense.

      • HOCKEY83

        He has not had the exteneded opportunity to play with skill or amount of ice time as tkachuk has been given since entering the league or even Ferland was given with out having earned it. I’d love to see him go to a team that needs a top six guy and play with some skill on his line and get more minutes. He’s been wasted here as a high draft pick.

        • cjc

          This is a team in its contention window though. The team doesn’t have the time to let Bennett figure out how to play in the top 6 when there are others who can fill the role just fine. Tkachuk lit the league on fire the day he joined, and Ferland did better with his tryout on the top line than Bennett did. Bennett hasn’t been wasted here, he just hasn’t done enough to prove he deserves more.

  • HarveysFleaCollar

    This kid should be the 2nd line center. A line (with current roster) of
    Tkachuk Bennett Lindholm
    Would be pretty good, grit, defensive responsible, scoring touch, physical, and two guys who can play center..

  • Chucky

    It is interesting that the title of this article is exactly what has not happened. Bennett’s role has never been defined and he has always played on a line that has no clear purpose.
    Bennett is a guy who will go get it out of the corners no matter who is in that corner but success relies on having a pair of linemates that will be there to put the puck in the net when he digs it out. For two years he has had Jankowski as a centre and while Mark is good at the defensive role that he fills on the PK he plays the same way 5 on 5 and that puts him to high in the offensive zone to score regularly. His right wingers have been too slow to get to the dirty zone or perimeter players (Neal, Brouwer, Jagr or Czarnik).
    Bennett needs to play with guys who complement his style, maybe Dube has that type of grit and Frolic definitely does.
    I expect that he will play with Jankowski again next year but Janko needs Joel Otto lessons to make him effective.
    Regardless of what happens with line combinations the way Bennett succeeds to his potential is on a line that fights tooth and nail to get the puck, keep the puck and take it to the front of the net so that hey can bash it though the defense and goaltender, nothing fancy just overwhelming aggression.

  • KootenayFlamesFan

    I think Bennett is a solid regular season player and a great playoff player. With the right linemates I think he would shine. Have him centre Tkachuk and someone else who plays a similar game. Anderson from the above post is a great option, just not sure we want to lose Backlund as our 3C.

    I have also never seen a hockey player with worse luck than Bennett. The bounces just keep going the wrong way for him. If that ever changes, look out!!

    • Budgie

      Anderson may not be available, someone of similar characteristics-he’s 220 lbs, 6’3″ fast and can score-if you need Cap Space and room on the Roster for Dube you have to give up a good player or two-Frolik, and Brodie have been mentioned the most-we are crowded at Centre, Bennett might be a better Centre, his Junior success was at Centre-Time to make a deal for a young big Right Winger with skill and speed. Who can go from Centre that can bring a decent return?

  • Korcan

    My opinion regarding blue-chip prospects remains unchanged. If the skill level is there, even if displayed inconsistently, then you must be patient.

    My belief is that players generally don’t peak until around age 25 (elite talents are the exception to this generalization), not because their skills/talents are still developing, but because their brains are still developing and will so until about age 25. The skillset is already there, but their ability to think the game at an NHL level is still evolving.

    I believe player statistics bear this out. If you go through team rosters i would argue that for most players there is a notable improvement in their age 25 season (give or take one year). There are obvious exceptions, especially with elite talents who reach that top level of play much earlier, but generally speaking i believe statistics support my theory.

    Does this mean Bennett will be a point-per-game player in his age 25 season? One can only hope. I am confident, however, that he can become a consistent 20 goal, 50 point player who also brings an edge to his game and elevates his play when it matters most.

    These are the type of players all GMs are looking for, because they know that their team needs these types if they have any hope of becoming Stanley Cup champions. Calgary already has one in Sam Bennett, so why would Treliving give hime away? Patience will be rewarded.

      • Herringchoker1971

        I agree Major 1000%.

        We always hear the comment…….Bennett has a low hockey IQ. I totally disagree, this is where I think people count stats without looking at the player. With his line Bennett is forced to carry the puck into the zone and then forced to try and go by everyone and because he’s had no finisher, he’s forced to take the stupid shot. He’s then forced to go to the front of the net because there’s no one else there. At that point he is relying on his teammates to get the puck to the net. Your never going to be success playing that way even in rec hockey

        People will say why doesn’t he pass more. I’ve wondered that too. Then I tell myself….Bennett tries to do too much because Janko is always thinking defence first and Neal (hopefully only last year) couldn’t hit the boards with a puck let alone the net. If Neal was as advertised……both Bennett and Janko would be pushing 40-50pts. That’s simple math. If Neal scored his usual 20-30 goals with 10-15 being on his own line. There’s 8-10 more points for Bennett and Janko. If Neal gets his usual 20+ assists, there’s 5 more points for Bennett and Janko. Then consider the confidence bump and how it would also generate more opportunity. It seems really common sense to me.

        • Kevin R

          Good post & I agree. If Pelletier has the same kind of IQ that Gaudreau has on the ice & tenacity of Fleury, would love to see him with Bennett in preseason games. Might be fun.

      • cjc

        I don’t think anyone is saying give up on Bennett. I think people are saying that Bennett shouldn’t be overpaid for what he provides, and it’s probably not realistic to think he’ll develop into a star at this point. As for playing with Turkeys, Bennett has had plenty of opportunity. He played a lot with Tkachuk and Backlund last year, and while he didn’t suck there he wasn’t particularly noticeable either. His time with Gaudreau and Monahan went badly. Bennett can be a good filler on the wing in the middle 6, but he doesn’t drive play on his own.

        Mangiapane’s story is quite different and yeah, his ceiling is higher than Bennett’s right now. Unlike Bennett, Mangiapane has never been given a shot in the top 6, but even playing in the bottom six it is quite clear that he can create offense on his own. He averaged over a point per game in the AHL as a 21/22 year old, which usually portends good things at the NHL level. His even strength scoring rates last year were ahead of Bennett’s (1.79 P/60 vs. 1.57 P/60; he actually led the Flames in goals/60 at even strength, just ahead of Gaudreau). His defense was also better – his goals against/60 shots against/60 and corsi against/60 were all lower than Bennnett. Mangiapane’s underlyings were also better than Bennett’s – he led the team in scoring chance% and high-danger chance% at even strength, and was also better in other categories. His statline and the eye test suggest Mangiapane could be ready to explode.