Jun. 27, 2014, was an exciting day for Sam Bennett and the Calgary Flames organization. Management selected the Canadian forward with the fourth overall pick that day. The team was struggling at the time, having missed the playoffs in five straight seasons. However, many expected Bennett, who had just put up 91 points in 57 games with the Kingston Frotenacs of the OHL, to turn the team around in no time.
Bennett’s Hot Start
Bennett had shoulder surgery before the 2014-15 season and missed the next five months. He was cleared to play for the Frotenacs in late February. He appeared in 11 regular-season games, posting 24 points.
The team was eliminated very quickly in the postseason, and as a result, the Flames called him up to join them for the remainder of their season. (from ‘Flames recall first-round pick Sam Bennett from Ontario Hockey League,’ Globe and Mail, 04/03/2015)
He couldn’t have had a better start to his NHL career, as he posted an assist in his first and only regular-season game. He also played in 11 playoff games, where he posted three goals and one assist. His speed, skill, and physicality were all on display and had everyone thinking he was a star in the making. Unfortunately, that has not been the case.
The Forgotten One
Bennett has failed to live up to his hot start in the 2015 Playoffs. He had a fairly successful rookie season in which he scored 18 goals and 18 assists in 77 games. However, those numbers remain career highs today, as he has failed to break the 30-point mark in the last four seasons. It has been frustrating for fans, as he was considered the top North American prospect by the NHL Central Scouting Bureau when he was drafted.
To this point, he has played 364 regular-season games with just 128 points. With the Flames’ other stars like Johnny Gaudreau, Sean Monahan, and Matthew Tkachuk, Bennett has been overlooked by both fans and management. A few years ago, he was expected to be one of the NHL’s biggest breakout stars. Now, there is little chatter about him, despite the fact that he’s only 24 years old.
Given his age, there is still a chance Bennett could become the player many expected him to be. However, that won’t happen in Calgary. There are too many players who have jumped ahead of him on the depth chart, and the team doesn’t have much confidence in him. His 2019-20 season was a complete disaster, with a career-low 12 points and he averaged just 12:31 minutes of ice time per game. Despite all that, teams should be calling the Flames to acquire him.
The biggest reason is that Bennett has a high-end skill set. A quick glance at his junior stats will show you that. Of course, that doesn’t always transition to the NHL, but he might produce if he is given a fair shot with a new team. There wouldn’t be much risk for a team to trade for him given his low value.
The Buffalo Sabres organization would make a lot of sense. The team is starving for offence and would be able to offer Bennett plenty of minutes to get him going. If this happened, Jack Eichel, who recently voiced his frustration with his team’s struggles, would be much happier. With one-year remaining on a deal worth $2.55 million per season, it wouldn’t be difficult for the Sabres, or another team, to bring him in.
Despite a disappointing career to this point, Bennett has raised his play during the playoffs. As mentioned, he played very well in his first NHL playoff experience as an 18-year-old and has done the same since when given the opportunity. During the 2017 Playoffs, although a small sample size, he scored two goals in four games.
Last season, he was the teams leading scorer in the playoffs with five points in five games. In total, he has played in 20 playoff games, posting six goals and five assists. This could improve his trade value.
Bennett may not wear a letter for the Flames but is regarded as a leader in the dressing room. (from ‘Flames teenager Sam Bennett embracing leadership role,’ Calgary Herald, 07/08/2015) While some players in his situation may complain about ice time or linemates, he has kept his head down and worked hard shift by shift, which speaks to his character.
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He has stuck up for his teammates countless times, whether it be with a fight or through his physical play. He proved this last season when he set a new career-high in penalty minutes with 93. Any coach would love to have a player like Bennett on his team.
The one thing that needs to be clear is that even though his career isn’t what anyone expected, he is still an NHL calibre player. He has fallen down the Flames’ depth chart and will likely remain in a bottom-six role for the t of his time in Calgary. While he has played fine in that role, it seems like there is untapped potential. If he is traded sometime soon, he may be able to become a productive top-six forward after all.