It's been a point of contention since he was first drafted: would Sam Bennett play in the NHL this season? Sean Monahan did after he was drafted, but he was a lot bigger, older, and more physically mature. Bennett, on the other hand, was one of the youngest of his draft class: something that spoke about just how talented he is.
And then a shoulder injury - one he played far too long with, just adding to how impressive the fourth overall pick truly is - put all those questions to rest. Bennett was out until February recovering from surgery. He missed everything following Flames training camp, although working out with the team did allow him to put on 10 lbs of muscle.
When he was finally cleared, he was sent back to Kingston. He proceeded to light the OHL on fire throughout March, but unfortunately for the Frontenacs, couldn't help them get past the North Bay Battalion, as they were swept right out of the first round of the OHL playoffs.
This left the Flames with two options: either Bennett plays in the NHL, or AHL. Both have their merits: the AHL isn't as difficult as the NHL, and with Bennett not having played much this season at all, could mean an easier time for him. He would also be a great asset in helping the Adirondack Flames to the playoffs.
But considering the level of talent he has, he would also be a great asset in helping the Calgary Flames to the playoffs. And with all due respect to the farm team, the NHL playoffs are more important.
The one glaring problem? Bennett only has four regular season games left in which he can play in, but playoff games count against the nine-game tryout, too. Via section 9.1 of the NHL CBA:
In the event that a Player signs his first SPC at age 18 and has had his SPC extended pursuant to Subsection (i), and such Player does not play at least ten (10) NHL Games in the second season under that SPC, then the term of his SPC and his number of years in the Entry Level System shall be extended for one (1) additional year.
The CBA only specifies NHL games. A playoff game is an NHL game: playoff games do, indeed, count.
Once Bennett hits 10 games - regular season or playoffs - a year of his entry level contract is burned. That's something the Flames cannot allow to happen. Not for so few games, and not for a team that isn't likely to make it far into the playoffs (assuming the Flames even make them to begin with). Bennett is, in all likelihood, going to end up being a very expensive player, so it's imperative the Flames keep him on a cheap deal as long as they can.
In the mean time, though... Sam Bennett is a Calgary Flame. After a lot of internal organizational debate - and I mean a lot! - he has been recalled.
The Bennett situation was extremely fluid for about 24 hours. Went back and forth a few times before settling on bringing him up. #Flames— Pat Steinberg (@Fan960Steinberg) April 3, 2015
I was told even after noon a decision hadn’t yet been made on Bennett. That’s how much of a debate was going on.— Randy Sportak (@SUNRandySportak) April 3, 2015
He is available to play tomorrow night against the Edmonton Oilers, and then the Arizona Coyotes thereafter. It's a smooth introduction to the NHL, since the Oilers and Coyotes are two of the worst teams in the league, and Bennett is, after all, still just coming out of junior. The Los Angeles Kings and Winnipeg Jets, however - two teams the Flames are in direct competition with for a playoff spot - will be much, much tougher tests.
It remains to be seen just when, exactly, Bennett makes his NHL debut. But if they're recalling him now, and Bennett is en route to Edmonton... Well, Hartley hasn't made any lineup decisions just yet, but...
Are you ready?
"This is a dream. This is what I have wanted since I was four years old." - Sam Bennett on being recalled by the #Flames— Calgary Flames (@NHLFlames) April 3, 2015