#5 Sam Bennett
Team: Calgary Flames
Drafted: 4th Overall in 2014
Last Year’s Rank: Third
The 2016-17 season was not what anyone would have hoped for from Sam Bennett. After a solid rookie season, he looked like he was ready to take the league by storm after looking dynamic in the preseason. However, he stalled this year and regressed rather than taking a step forward. This has led to some questioning how much potential the player really has. Meanwhile, Bennett is fighting for a bit more money on what will likely be a short-term deal, while the guy drafted in front of him 3 years ago just signed for $8.5 million a season. Despite all of this, it is fair to argue that people are being unduly pessimistic about the future of the Calgary Flames’ highest ever draft pick.
Flames fans have been spoiled in recent years by young talent coming in and immediately being very productive, as was the case with Johnny Gaudreau, Sean Monahan and now Matthew Tkachuk. Bennett has not been bad, but he has not yet had the same success as the other players have had when it comes to counting stats. This makes it seems as if Bennett is doing something wrong and will not be able to take bigger strides forward, but there have been many players that have been less productive than Bennett early in their careers and gone on to be very successful. Ryan Johansen and Ryan Kesler are two notable examples, but there are many others.
Furthermore, Bennett missed essentially the entire season following his selection at the 2014 draft, only getting into a handful of junior games and a brief playoff run with the Flames. To this point, he has only played 2 NHL seasons, even though it feels like he has been around a lot longer. The guy just turned 21 in June. While some people are discounting Bennett and hyping themselves up about Mark Jankowski’s potential, you have to recognize that Bennett is 2 years younger than Jankowski and has already played 2 NHL seasons. Bennett has a longer runway for becoming an impact player compared to Jankowski.
We have alluded to it before in previous articles, but Bennett’s play this past season suffered tremendously when he was playing alongside Troy Brouwer, compared to when he was not. Bennett (and frequent linemate Kris Versteeg) enjoyed a CF% boost of about 7% when he did not play with Brouwer. That swing in possession is very significant, considering that Bennett spent a significant amount of time playing alongside Brouwer. I’d like to see him have a full season alongside players that can at least break even in possession, before we start writing off Bennett’s potential. Jagr, anybody?
So yes, while his NHL results to date could be better, I think people are being a little bit too apocalyptic when prognosticating the likelihood of Bennett becoming a strong top-six forward. It really is not unrealistic to think that he has the potential to be the team’s most productive forward outside of Johnny Gaudreau.
I ran a poll on our Twitter account about a month ago, asking people to pick who they think will have the greatest career between Bennett and Monahan. The results were overwhelmingly in favour of Monahan, with Monahan garnering about 80% of the votes. I found it interesting that there was such a degree of separation. Obviously, Monahan has been a much more productive player offensively. However, he has spent a lot of time playing with top line players and has a prime spot on the #1 powerplay unit. Bennett has not been afforded such an opportunity, other than a brief stint with Gaudreau last season, when both players were struggling.
I think Bennett is a much more rounded player defensively, compared to Monahan. Obviously, Monahan schools Bennett in the faceoff circle, but otherwise, Monahan’s defensive capabilities seem to be a bit overstated at this point. While Bob Hartley often deployed Sean Monahan as a penalty-killer, he had questionable results. Conversely, the Sam Bennett-Alex Chiasson duo of last season actually fared quite well. Bennett also has an edge to his game that is essentially non-existent for Sean Monahan. Here is my favourite example:
Bennett finished off a disappointing regular season by being one of Calgary’s best forwards in their short series against the Ducks. It was a glimpse of what he can contribute to the team when he is on his game. Now it is on him to improve his consistency and be an impact player regularly over the course of a season. If he does that, you will see him higher on our ranking next year. If he does not, then it may be fair to start questioning his long-term potential.