CALGARY – For the record, Sam Bennett says he did 11 pull-ups for the Calgary Flames on Thursday.
The fourth overall pick in this year’s NHL draft garnered some attention when he couldn’t do one at the league’s annual combine in June.
Bennett was ready, however, for the physical testing which kicked off the Flames rookie camp.
“I guess if you’re wondering about the pull-ups, I did 11 pull-ups today,” Bennett said, anticipating the question from the media. “It’s a little bit better than zero, so definitely a little progression on that.”
The highest NHL draft pick in Calgary Flames history will play his first game in a flaming ‘C’ on Friday when Calgary’s rookies take on their Winnipeg Jets counterparts in Penticton, B.C.
Calgary, Winnipeg, the Edmonton Oilers and Vancouver Canucks are sending their rookies to the Okanagan Valley for a “Young Stars Classic” tournament.
So the four-day tournament will also feature forward Leon Draisaitl, this year’s third overall pick by the Oilers, as well as Winnipeg’s No. 9 selection Nikolaj Ehlers.
“First time throwing on a Flames jersey to play on the ice,” Bennett said. “It’s going to be great to play against all the young players who are eventually going to be the stars of this league.”
The rookie tournament will determine which players advance to main camps next week and who gets assigned to the minors or back to their junior teams.
Bennett signed a three-year, entry-level contract with the Flames in July. Barring injury, he’ll participate in main camp and will likely get into Flames exhibition games.
Perhaps as a means of taking pressure off Bennett, new Calgary general manager Brad Treliving has said in the past he doesn’t expect the 18-year-old from Holland Landing, Ont., to make the team this season.
“If that’s what they’re thinking right now, I’m going to do everything I can in training camp and in the exhibition games to change their mind and prove to them that I am ready to play,” Bennett said.
The six-foot, 185-pound Bennett played a smart, skilled, scrappy game for the Ontario Hockey League’s Kingston Frontenacs last season and was ranked the top draft prospect by Central Scouting. Bennett led the Frontenacs in scoring with 36 goals and 55 assists in 57 games.
Flames forward Sean Monahan made an immediate impact after the Calgary took him sixth overall in 2013. Monahan finished fourth in NHL rookie scoring with 22 goals last season.
Bennett says he won’t compare himself to Monahan, however.
“It comes down to just worrying about myself,” he said. “I’m not going to set expectations based on what other players did last year. All my expectations are based on myself.
“I know what my goal is and I know what I want to achieve so I think that’s really what I’m going to be focused on.”
As a client of strength and conditioning coach Andy O’Brien, Bennett was invited to join other clients including Pittsburgh captain Sidney Crosby and Chicago Blackhawks stars Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane for a high-altitude conditioning camp in Vail, Colo., last week.
“The thing I got out of that was watching how they performed and what they do when no one else is around, just players,” Bennett said.
“I got an idea on how they’re the best players in the world and they still train like they need to prove something. It’s just amazing how hard they work and how much time and effort they put in to be the best.”
The Flames rookies take on the Oilers Saturday and wrap up the tournament Monday against the Canucks.
“People don’t realize that guys aren’t going there just to showcase themselves,” said forward Morgan Klimchuk, another Flames first-round pick.
“You’re playing with the Calgary Flames jersey on, you’re playing for pride and to show in the future we’re going to be a better team than they are.”