By Randy Sportak
Based on his rookie season, Sam Bennett could be in line for a nickname. Or a different set of digits on his sweater.
The Calgary Flames’ up-and-coming center/winger was known as ‘18-year-old Sam Bennett’ during the team’s 2015 playoff series against the Vancouver Canucks (a phrase that apparently drove some Canucks fans absolutely bonkers), and that number followed him to the end of 2015-16. Just check out the stats from Bennett’s freshman campaign: 18 goals, 18 assists and not just one but two 18-game goal-scoring slumps.
It could be enough for a spinoff version of the theory that most events in the world can be connected to The Number 23, and the basis for one of the stranger Jim Carrey movies in his eclectic career.
As Bennett looks back on his first full NHL year and forward to his sophomore season, the biggest element he vows to address is consistency, not so much an indictment on his production but those lengthy goal droughts. “That’s part of my job and part of my role with the team, to generate offense,” said Bennett, who actually threw an imaginary monkey off his back after snapping the first of those goal-scoring slumps.
There are many aspects of Bennett’s game the Flames love. He has skill and creativity – check out the highlights of his four-goal night against Florida for Exhibit A – along with intense drive to make a difference every shift, whether by turning on the goal light or being physical. Although that intensity sometimes hurts Bennett – he must learn to use his linemates more instead of trying to beat five opposing skaters by himself – he’s seen as a long-term second-line center for the club, which has another young standout up the middle in Sean Monahan. The process began halfway through this campaign when Bennett was moved to the middle from the left wing.
While Bennett didn’t have the same offensive output after the switch, the lessons learned have him determined to become a bigger factor this coming season.
In preparation, he’s not only working on adding strength to help win more 1-on-1 battles, but also looking to develop his scoring touch, especially from areas close to the net. “It’ll be my second full year, so naturally I’ll have more confidence, but you can work on things, your skills, to be more consistent,” Bennett said. “If you’re more confident, more comfortable making those plays, it’ll translate into games.”
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