The Calgary Flames would prefer not to have Sam Bennett in the NHL as an 18-year-old. But when he was their best player in two recent pre-season games, it has stirred debate. Should he stay or should he go?
Sam Bennett has been Calgary’s best player in the two NHL pre-season games he’s played. Despite that, the fourth overall pick in the 2014 draft is likely headed back to the Ontario League’s Kingston Frontenacs for the bulk of the season.
Here are five reasons why he should stick with the Flames as an 18-year-old and five reasons why he’s destined to go back.
Stay. He’s quick enough and skilled enough to make an impact. In the two pre-season games – both losses to Vancouver – Bennett dazzled with his speed, moves, and creativity and assisted on Calgary’s lone goal. He generated nine shots and was pretty much the team’s lone reliable scoring threat in the two games.
Stay. The Flames are nursing a number of injuries among their forwards, including centers Mikael Backlund and Markus Granlund. Makes sense to keep Bennett for the nine games before Year 1 of his contract kicks in and see how he handles that.
Stay. Even though Bennett just turned 18 in June, he has a maturity beyond his years. He had 36 goals and 91 points in 57 OHL games last season and is ready for a more challenging test. The best way to improve a growing game is facing better competition. It worked well for 18-year-old Sean Monahan last season.
Stay. The Flames desperately need skill and scoring in their lineup. They ranked 23rd in the NHL in offense last year and lost leading scorer Mike Cammalleri (26 goals) to free agency.
Stay. Five of the top six picks in the 2013 draft stepped right into the NHL and made solid contributions. Only Jonathan Drouin (third overall) went back to junior. Recent fourth overall picks to step into the NHL right away are Seth Jones (2013), Adam Larsson (2011) and Evander Kane (2009).
Return. Bennett still has a slight frame (six-feet, 180 pounds) and could stand another 12 months of physical maturation before facing the big men for 82 games. He’s eight months younger than Monahan when Monahan cracked Calgary’s lineup a year ago. Bennett would also benefit from being a go-to player for Canada at the world juniors.
Return. Director of hockey operations Brian Burke is a big believer in not rushing prospects to the NHL as teenagers. Even the likes of Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry spent time in the AHL when Burke was in Anaheim. Burke isn’t the GM, but he has a lot of influence and any decision to keep Bennett would pass through his office.
Return. GM Brad Treliving is also a believer in not fast-tracking prospects and has said Bennett is likely ticketed for the OHL. Treliving was assistant GM in Phoenix in 2008 when the Coyotes rushed Mikkel Boedker, Kyle Turris and Viktor Tikhonov to the NHL as teenagers. Phoenix hasn’t fast-tracked an 18-year-old since.
Return. The Flames are destined to be among the league’s bottom-feeders this season, with or without Bennett in the NHL. No point burning a year of his contract now as an 18-year-old on a team still looking for traction in a rebuild.
Return. Look north. The Flames have the Edmonton Oilers as reminders what could happen if you let the teenagers do too much of the heavy lifting. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Nail Yakupov might have been better served spending another season in the junior ranks.
VERDICT. It’s all but certain Bennett will be headed back to Kingston at some point this autumn. All the signs point in that direction. At most, he’ll spend up to nine games in the NHL, getting a good lesson in what it’s like and excellent incentive to make the jump for good as a 19-year-old.
Brian Costello is The Hockey News’s senior editor and a regular contributor to the thn.com Post-To-Post blog. For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine. Follow Brian Costello on Twitter at @BCostelloTHN