Max Domi. Sam Reinhart. Bo Horvat. Leon Draisaitl.
All four names were closely monitored throughout the NHL pre-season; with all three still junior eligible, their respective franchises were tasked with making the decision to either give them extra development time or burn a year of their contract and give them a taste of NHL action.
Two of the three — Domi and Reinhart, who both awed fans this winter at the World Junior Championships — were reassigned to their major junior teams at the start of the season. Reinhart was given nine games with the Buffalo Sabres, then shockingly sent down to the Kootenay Ice of the WHL; Domi wasn’t even given a look before the Arizona Coyotes gave him the opportunity to captain the London Knights of the OHL.
Two were kept in the NHL, though — and while the Edmonton Oilers ultimately counted Draisaitl’s first contract year a loss and reassigned him in January, Horvat is still on the active roster for the Vancouver Canucks.
There had been one more name that fans of twenty-nine NHL teams have probably forgotten about, although it’s doubtful anyone cheering for the Calgary Flames doesn’t know who I’m talking about.
That’s right: Sam Bennett, the fourth overall pick at the 2014 NHL Entry Draft.
Initially projected to potentially go first overall, Bennett slipped a full three picks after an unfortunate incident at the NHL Scouting Combine saw him fail to do a single pull-up. The Calgary Flames, though, weren’t dissuaded by the one stain on the wily forward’s laundry list of impressive accolades.
Considered fast, sneaky, and one of the most clever skaters on the ice, the Holland Landing native recorded ninety-one points during the 2013-2014 season with the Kingston Frontenacs of the OHL. Without him, they’re struggling this season — this past October, it was almost a given that the eighteen year old would be making Calgary’s starting roster this season.
It didn’t take the team long, though, to figure out that Bennett had been playing hurt — and not just mildly injured, but injured enough to need significant shoulder surgery. He hadn’t told anyone because he wanted to keep playing, but eventually it became too much — and instead of helping the Frontenacs make a push for home ice advantage in the Memorial Cup playoffs or giving the Flames one more captivating youngster to track, he faded into the background to rehab following the procedure.
It’s been months now, though — and at long last, the Flames and the Frontenacs will get a chance to decide who he’ll help make a push for a championship this spring.
— Derek Wills (@Fan960Wills) February 14, 2015
Queue the ensuing controversy.
The Calgary Flames have been out-Corsi’ed all season, for those who believe that advanced numbers always win out in the end. They’ve been riding a seemingly unsustainable high — winning games despite being outpossessed, scoring on lucky bounces, and earning points by capitalizing on sloppy mistakes by other teams and a sheer determination to see the post-season against all odds.
Adding Sam Bennett to the Calgary Flames’ roster could be the final stroke of luck that the Flames need to be this season’s Cinderella story; he’s sneaky and smart enough to help Calgary skate circles around bigger, slower, potentially lazier teams in the post-season.
Fans have already witnessed the Flames take home seemingly impossible wins as players like Sean Monahan and Mark Giordano provide both offense and defense (one at center, the other on the blue line) and speedy, small Johnny Gaudreau has woven in and out of the opposing players on the ice as he uses his highly talented hands to fire off shots that go in before the goaltender even knows what’s going on. Josh Jooris has provided a surprising avalanche of secondary scoring, and players like Markus Granlund are still continuing to improve as the season progresses.
The Kingston Frontenacs put up a solid argument for why they deserve the young forward, though, as well.
The team sits too far behind the most powerful OHL teams to add Sam Bennett in enough time to climb very high in the standings, but the addition of him to the team’s lineup during their Memorial Cup run could make them the dark horse candidate of the CHL.
The Frontenacs are young and they’ve battled through injuries, but they have some worthwhile names on their roster that could be compounded with a Sam Bennett addition to become quietly lethal. Top-rated 2015 draft prospect Lawson Crouse has worked on developing a stronger defensive role on the team this season (making a Bennett addition something other teams should worry about offensively), and Kingston’s starting netminder, Lucas Peressini, is certainly a large part of the reason the team has seen a record as good as they have.
While the Frontenacs have been struggling to find consistent offense (they’re currently falling just shy of 2.8 GPG), Peressini’s 2.46 GAA are keeping his team in the picture. Adding an extra handful of goals at the end of the regular season — or, better yet, during the playoffs — could be the difference for Kingston between another season of being swept by the Barrie Colts and a round advancement through a coming-from-behind upset.
Of course, there’s still no confirmation of when exactly Bennett will be back — and if he returns with over nine games left in the season, the Flames could see it prudent to allow him an extra junior-eligible season. No matter which league he returns to, though, one thing is clear — at least one of these two franchises are going to get a whole lot scarier in coming weeks.