Doug Gilmour would be happy to see Sam Bennett fail to make the cut.
The general manager of the Kingston Frontenacs knows he could lose his leading scorer to the Calgary Flames this fall, so as much as he’s rooting for the 18-year-old’s success, if Bennett is deemed too green in the eyes of the NHL club that scooped him up fourth overall in June, well, that will make Kingston that much more of an Ontario Hockey League threat.
“I’m going to be selfish. I want him back. But if he makes it, good for him,” Gilmour says. “I want him to succeed, but at the same time, our team, with him, we feel we’re good enough to go for it this year.
“We spoke a little bit after the draft. He’s a very polite kid and a talented kid. Obviously I wished him the best. What his status is—whether he comes back, whether he doesn’t come back—you never know. That’s up to him and the Calgary Flames to decide.”
On the heels of a 36-goal, 55-assist campaign in his sophomore season in the O, the Flames inked Bennett to an entry-level deal in late July. But Flames GM Brad Treliving suggests Bennett will likely be heading back to Gilmour’s club.
“I would be shocked [if Bennett sticks]. He will have to come in here and show beyond a shadow of a doubt that, not only is he ready to be here, but this is what’s best for him,” Treliving recently told Sportsnet’s Mark Spector.
Bucking people’s assumptions, rising to the task at hand—these are becoming staples of Bennett’s repertoire, however.
And if this viral video from the Frontenacs’ training camp, which opened over the weekend, is any indication, the kid could be ready for a fresh challenge:
Gotta See It: Bennett goes coast to coast, first day of Frontenacs camp
When Bennett played minor hockey alongside Connor McDavid on the GTHL's Toronto Marlboros, the playmaker was buried a bit playing wing on a deep team. He was a steal by the Frontenacs at ninth overall in the 2012 OHL draft.
“When he came to Kingston, we moved him to centre, and we saw the difference. He was kinda shadowed in minor,” Gilmour explains. "That team [the Marlboros] had 12 first-rounders in the league, out of 20 [OHL] teams. As we saw him progress out of training camp, this kid just kept getting better and better. This guy—every practice he gets better, every game he gets better. Plus, he’s got a big heart. Every night he’s working his butt off. A never-give-up type of player. Calgary is going to be very happy to have him.”
Night in and night out, Gilmour has watched Bennett—a kid famously derided for being unable to perform a pull-up at the NHL combine—get run by his opponents, and his response was always positive.
“Guys who play against him would chirp him and get abusive with him,” Gilmour says. “He never stopped. He’d get up, get the puck, figure out who he’s going to pass it to or score a goal. His commitment is unbelievable.”
No attribute might be under more scrutiny during the initial days of an NHL training camp, the culture of which Gilmour says has evolved significantly since he broke into the league 31 years ago, reporting to coach Jacques Demers in St. Louis.
"We used to go to training camp to get in shape, and we used to go for three weeks doing two-a-days,” Gilmour says.
"In 1983, your training regime might be putting a garbage bag on and driving around in your car with the heat on when it’s 100 degrees out. Things change." — Doug Gilmour
For Gilmour, he noticed a sudden difference in camp when Jacques Martin assumed the Blues bench in September of 1986.
“There was a lot of changeover. He brought in fitness people,” Gilmour says. "You had to come into camp in the late ’80s in good shape. The early ’80s? Not necessarily."
Today's NHLers typically take a few weeks off after their team is eliminated in the spring only to resume training on their own or in small groups months before camp opens. There was one constant Gilmour picked up on every fall of his Hall of Fame career, though: his own fear.
“I played 20 years, and I was scared crapless every training camp,” he says. "All their [fitness] testing — you train for it, but you still want to make sure you do well. I was scared every year.
“Once the coaches got the test results, there’s no lying. So if you weren’t in shape, they’re going to make you get in shape quick, or maybe say you’re not committed. And you don’t want that going into camp.”
Gilmour on the Toronto Maple Leafs’ 2014-15 outlook: “Some guys gotta get a chance. They’ve added some different features. The way of the game is, you need four good lines playing, and everybody’s got their opinion. I’m not here to judge, but you sit back and read or listen to what fans are saying on the radio station or whatever…. Maybe the top two lines played a little too much [in 2013-14]. Maybe the third line and the fourth line has got to play more. I’m not there every day, but there’s gotta be some value to that.”