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M&G's Top 25 Under 25: #4 - Sam Bennett

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At number four, we've got somebody poised to make waves in his first NHL season this year: Sam Bennett.

Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports

The Flames entered the 2014 NHL Draft not knowing who would be there. Would it be Sam Reinhart, Leon Draisaitl, or Sam Bennett? Ultimately Reinhart and Draisaitl were selected two and three and the Flames didn't overthink it and took the standout from Kingston. Along with Sean Monahan, it appeared that Bennett would be a terrific one-two centre punch for the Flames for years to come.

Then training camp started. Bennett didn't play the way the Flames had hoped. A medical exam took place and it was determined that the young centreman would need surgery on his shoulder. It was a let down, but neither fans nor organizational members second guessed their decision. One year of what was supposed to be a rebuild would certainly not be the end of the world.

As it turns out the Flames' little rebuild that could considerably outperformed expectations, defying preseason projections, then advanced stats, then analysts who left them for dead in what could have possibly been a win or go home game against the Kings en route to the playoffs, and it turned out the Flames would require Bennett's services. Immediately he came in and it was like he never left: one game, one assist in the regular season; 11 games, three goals, one assist in the postseason, all of which came at even strength. He was above average relative to the rest of the team in possession as well.

Rank Player DOB Draft 2014-15 team Vote total
4
Sam Bennett
6/20/96
4th overall, 2014
Kingston Frontenacs (OHL), Calgary Flames (NHL)
155

History

Bennett came into the 2014 draft after constantly ranking somewhere between first and fourth overall in what was considered to be a weak draft class. There was plenty of talent at the top of it, though. He had previously played for the Kingston Frontenacs of the OHL, where he was rather easily the team's best player, posting 91 points in 57 games.

Bennett came to Flames training camp with an injury carried over from the previous season's OHL playoffs. and the Flames weighed between surgery or rehab, ultimately deciding on the surgery. Upon his recovery several months later the Flames were forced to make a decision to either send him directly to the NHL, send him to the AHL on a conditioning stint, or send him back to the OHL. They chose to send him back to junior and Bennett did insanely well, posting 24 points in 11 games.

Unfortunately the Frotenacs weren't very good without him and they wound up facing a difficult North Bay team on the road, where they were swept in the first round of the playoffs. The Flames would have to make yet another choice between the AHL and NHL and decided on the NHL, as Adirondack's season was all but over after the injury to Joni Ortio. Bennett excelled in the NHL to the point where the team decided to use a year of his ELC to play him in the playoffs, a controversial decision which is probably overblown.

Stats

Strengths and weaknesses

The list of Bennett's strengths are probably too long to list as he's one of the more complete hockey players the Flames have seen in quite some time. He possesses the speed to play at a high level and combines that with terrific shooting and passing capabilities. He could wind up at number one on the list in a year or two if his development continues at the right pace, and the only reason he's ranked this low is due to the fact that he hasn't seen the NHL sample size needed to prove that he'll continue to play at this level.

Conversely, there aren't a lot of weaknesses to Bennett's game at all. Some would mention that he's not yet a proven defender, but that's a tired trope that is thrown about for nearly all young, offensively-minded players. That part of his game should develop with relative ease, but concerns about his size will remain. While size is often a commodity of overblown importance (seven of the 10 lightest teams in the NHL made the playoffs last year), Bennett doesn't have the luxury of saying that he's played a number of years against larger competition without injury a la Johnny Gaudreau.

Future with the Flames

Barring a bizarre moment of sheer lunacy by management or an incredible offer the Flames would be stupid to turn down, it's hard to imagine a future without Bennett in the organization. He's going to be incredibly cost controlled for two more years and he won't be an unrestricted free agent until the age of 25 (two years earlier than most as he'll likely play in the league each year and he should reach his seventh year by that point in time). It looks like he'll definitely mature into a serviceable offensive player with the potential to be a juggernaut in the opposing team's zone. The traits needed to see him turn into a well above average defensive forward are there, too.

Expectations for 2015-2016

He's going to be on the roster, he's going to be featured on one of the top two lines, he's going to be on the power play, and he's going to be a centre. The Flames will look for him to be quality contributor offensively who can hopefully help to up their poor possession numbers. The confidence level should be guardedly optimistic.

Earlier on the list

#25Ryan Culkin // #24Hunter Smith // #23 - Pavel Karnaukhov // #22Garnet Hathaway // #21Kenny Agostino// #20Mark Jankowski // #19Bill Arnold // #18Kenney Morrison // #17 - Andrew Mangiapane // T-#14 Mason McDonald // T-#14Brandon Hickey // T-#14 - Rasmus Andersson // #13Tyler Wotherspoon // #12 - Oliver Kylington // #11 - Morgan Klimchuk // #10 - Markus Granlund // #9 - Drew Shore // #8 - Joni Ortio // #7 - Micheal Ferland // #6 - Emile Poirier // #5 - Jon Gillies