Sam Bennett Heating Up at Perfect Time for Flames

13 January 2016: Calgary Flames Winger Sam Bennett (93) [9634] scored three goals during the first period an NHL Hockey game between the Calgary Flames and the Florida Panthers at the Scotiabank Saddledome in Calgary, AB. (Photo byÊJose Quiroz/Icon Sportswire)
(Photo by ÊJose Quiroz/Icon Sportswire)

The 2014-15 Calgary Flames were one of the most surprising teams in all of hockey. They transformed from a 77-point bottom feeder to a 97-point playoff team, surprising fans and pundits en route to a playoff series victory over the Vancouver Canucks.

Flames supporters may not have entered last year with high expectations, but that wasn’t the case this season. Calgary was aggressive in the offseason, acquiring Dougie Hamilton from the Boston Bruins and signing free agent Michael Frolik to a five-year deal. The team may have over-performed a year ago, but general manager Brad Treliving did everything he could to acquire more talent.

One player he didn’t have to go outside of Calgary to acquire was the fourth-overall pick from the 2014 draft, Sam Bennett.

He could have potentially made that surprising Flames team from a year ago, but he injured his shoulder during training camp. The aliment required surgery and kept Bennett on the shelf for much of the campaign.

He was cleared for action five months later, at which point the Flames re-assigned him to the Kingston Frontenacs. Bennett wasted no time showing that he didn’t belong in the OHL any more. He notched 11 goals and 24 points in 11 games for Kingston, but the team was quickly vanquished in the playoffs.

The Flames then recalled Bennett for the final game of the regular season, and he registered his first point–an assist–on his first shift. The teenager would remain a regular for Calgary through 11 playoff contests, registering three goals and adding a helper. He wasn’t leaned on heavily, but Bennett didn’t struggle to match the intensity of professionals during the playoffs either.

Postseason hockey is considered to be quicker, tighter and more harsh than regular season. It’s where players can establish themselves as warriors of the game, and Bennett didn’t shrink from this one bit. If anything, he thrived against the odds and showed Calgary’s brass that he was ready to be an NHLer in 2015-16.

That excited both the organization and fans, and Bennett was essentially treated as a big time offseason addition heading into the campaign. If he can score a handful of goals during the playoffs, how much damage can this kid do during the regular season? That seemed to be the line of thinking surrounding the 19-year-old forward.

Bennett was thought to be a dark horse for the Calder Trophy earlier this year. That chatter faded in October as it took him eight games to score his first goal, but that seemed to spark the Ontario native. On October 28 he scored a goal and added an assist against the Ottawa Senators. Bennett proceeded to roll through his next eight games, posting three goals and adding five assists.

He wasn’t able to keep that forward momentum going, however. From November 15 to January 7, Bennett scored one goal and had two assists. Good for three points in 22 games. That stretch also included an 18-game pointless streak — something that Flames head coach Bob Hartley wasn’t taking lightly.

The bench boss recently told Wes Gilbertson of The Calgary Sun that he considered scratching Bennett several weeks ago.

“One game, in the first period, he was not very good. And after the first period, I told Marty (Gelinas) and Jacques (Cloutier), ‘I’ve seen enough. We’re going to go to the Johnny Gaudreau trick.’ But in the second and third period, he was flying. So we closed the book back.”

Maybe expectations for Bennett were too high during the offseason, but even fans of the Edmonton Oilers wouldn’t have guessed that he’d struggle like he has. He managed to score on January 11 against the San Jose Sharks, which apparently laid the foundation for his historic outburst against the Florida Panthers on January 13.

Bennett scored a hat trick in the first period, chasing Roberto Luongo and spearheading the Flames to a 6-0 whitewashing of the Panthers. Bennett also tacked on a fourth goal with less than a minute to go, capping a monster evening for the forward. If there was indeed a monkey on his back, there isn’t now.

He’s the youngest Flame to have ever scored a hat trick, and the organization hasn’t seen a natural hat trick in the opening frame since 1993.

Bennett has doubled his goal total on the season over this last two games. He now has 10 tallies on the year and could conceivably crack the 20-goal barrier as a rookie. The Flames season hasn’t gone the way it was supposed to in general, and Bennett has been impacted by the team’s struggles.

He seems to be well positioned for a strong second half though. With the Flames sitting just three points out of a Wild Card spot and right in the thick of the Pacific Division, a red-hot Bennett could be the difference between playoff hockey and an early start to summer.

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