If there’s one question Calgary Flames general manager Brad Treliving wishes he had he answer to this off-season, it’s what is Sam Bennett? After five full NHL seasons, and trial periods in basically every situation you could imagine, it’s unclear precisely what Bennett can be or do over an 82-game season.

He’s next up in our season-end player evaluations.

2019-20 season summary

(Data courtesy Natural Stat Trick.)

Games played Goals Assists Points TOI/GP 5v5 CF% 5v5 CF% rel OZF% PDO
52 8 4 12 12:30 49.65 -1.51 48.8 1.002

In his fifth NHL season, Bennett hit a career low in offensive output – though if you pro-rate his performance over the 12 canceled games, he would’ve had 10 goals and 15 points (which would still be a career low). He also had the unfortunate distinction of leading the Flames in minor penalties – he was tied with TJ Brodie in all situations minors and was one behind Brodie at even strength minors, but Brodie played twice as much as Bennett.

Now, Bennett’s minors were a product of him hustling and fore-checking hard. He took penalties of passion, not laziness. Bennett was engaged and trying to make an impact but his playing style, as we’ve seen many, many times, is arguably better suited for the more physical playoff games than it is for mid-season Wednesday night yawners against Columbus – for an example.

So what is Bennett? Two Flames coaches tried to figure it out this season. Here are Bennett’s four most common lines in 2019-20:

  • On left wing of the fourth line with Mark Jankowski and Tobias Rieder
  • On right wing of the third line with Derek Ryan and Milan Lucic
  • On center on the third line with Dillon Dube and Lucic
  • On right wing of the fourth line with Andrew Mangiapane and Ryan

Left wing. Right wing. Centre. Checking line. Offensive line. His ice time has varied between 8:12 and 17:13. He’s wobbled all over the place on the roster. He wasn’t a regular center, but took the sixth-most face-offs on the team (winning 51.7%). He received very little power play time (playing just 42:13, usually as an injury replacement) and virtually no penalty kill time (just 3:31).

24-Year-Old Sam Bennett isn’t a rookie anymore, but he’s still arguably scratching the surface of what he can be at the NHL level. Aside from Cam Talbot and Matthew Tkachuk, he was the most impactful Flames player in the 10 post-season games they played in the bubble. He had almost as many points in 10 playoff games as he had in 52 regular season games.

If Bennett could be Playoff Sam for 82 games, the Flames are a much better, deeper and more dangerous team.

Compared to last season

Bennett’s offensive production dropped from 13 goals in 2018-19 to eight in 2019-20, and from 27 points to 12. It was, in a word, disappointing.

Bennett’s personal shooting percentage in all situations dropped 1.5% to 9.76%, but his five-on-five shooting jumped 2.25% to 11.43%. He just needed to generate more scoring chances when he was on the ice, because he did tend to bury them when they came.

What about next season?

Bennett has one season left on his current deal with a $2.55 million cap hit. He’ll be a restricted free agent following the 2020-21 season, and arguably would be the most attractive available Flame for selection by the expansion Seattle Kraken.

In the interim, it behooves the Flames to get the most value they can out of Bennett on the ice. For 2020-21, that means giving him a regular role (probably as a centre given his face-off prowess), regular linemates, and regular special teams duties, too. When Bennett’s got a clear role, clear expectations and some regularity in his game, he’s shown flashes of being one of the team’s best players. Unfortunately, his inconsistent role has bred inconsistency into his game.

Bennett’s young, fast, smart and talented. If he can carve out a niche on the team and find the proper balance of physical engagement in the regular season, the Flames will be in a much better position the next time Playoff Sam comes out to play.

2020 Player Evaluations

Mark Giordano | Sean Monahan