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Peter Maher’s Hockey Blog
Monday, September 25, 2017
The day Sam Bennett was drafted fourth overall by the Flames in 2014 he was compared to hall-of-famer Doug Gilmour.
Even though Bennett played Gilmour’s position, centre, and wore Gilmour’s Toronto Maple Leaf famous number 93 on a Kingston Frontenacs junior team that the ex-Flame was General Manager of, it was an unfair comparison.
It put unnecessary added pressure on a then 18-year-old at his first NHL camp. The Flames tried to reduce the burden on Bennett then by assigning him number 63. It was a year later he donned number 93 in Flame colors even though Gilmour wore number 39 when he helped the Flames win the Stanley Cup in 1989.
Many started to believe the contrasting evaluations when Bennett, following an injury, joined the Flames late in the 2014-15 season helping the team win a first round playoff series notching three goals.
He played enough games then, 12, to use up a year of pro hockey eligibility. That’s why after just two full seasons with the Flames – 2015-16 and 2016-17 – he needed to sign a new contract prior to the start of this campaign.
Bennett inked that two-year pact a week before training camp. He’ll be paid $1.9-million each of the next two seasons.
Over the last two seasons Bennett has displayed only flashes of his projected capabilities thus he didn’t get the multi-million deals that teammates Sean Monahan and Johnny Gaudreau received last fall after their entry-level contracts expired.
That could be a good thing. If Bennett is to reach those financial plateaus when he’s up for a new contract after the 2018-19 campaign he needs to be big producer.
If he’s a big producer and steps up as the Flames first or second centreman it could propel the team to heights in the standing they haven’t attained since 1995.
Bennett’s positive progression is essential if the Flames are to be pennant contenders in the Pacific Division where many ‘experts’ predict Edmonton will prevail this campaign.
It’s very early, but Bennett has made an impact in the Flames pre-season. Collecting four assists in the first two games he’s played.
After spending a summer working out at ex-Flame Gary Roberts camp in Toronto, Bennett has added 10 pounds of muscle.
He’s also added a beard. That has drawn humorous comment from teammates and opponents. Flames General Manager Brad Treliving jokingly said he now looks like San Jose Sharks star centre Joe Thornton.
At least this Bennett comparison was made in jest. Seriously, if Bennett can have a career a quarter as good as Gilmour and Thornton the Flames will be delighted.