Flames could benefit by keeping Sam Bennett on wing

Alexander Steen had his first four points of the season with a goal and three assists to help the St. Louis Blues to a 5-2 win against the Calgary Flames on Wednesday. The Blues have now have points in four straight games.

The overall body of work for the Calgary Flames has been just average through their 5-5-0 start to the season. Head coach Glen Gulutzan continues to tinker with his lineup, and for good reason: the team’s bottom six isn’t contributing as much as it needs to.

But at least one of those lineup tweaks needs to turn into a permanent thing.

This week saw the Flames move Sam Bennett to left wing from centre, and it should stay that way. As it stands right now, Bennett isn’t effective down the middle, even sitting at No. 3 on the depth chart. With the extra responsibilities a centre has at both ends of the ice, Bennett has struggled creating anything offensively and thus has spent too much time defending.

A quick look at Bennett’s five-on-five outputs this season helps tell that story. His first eight games were spent down the middle, but Calgary flipped Bennett to the wing for their games against Nashville and St. Louis this week. While it’s a very small sample size, the results are still telling.

Pos GP S CF% OZS%
C 8 5 42.7 50.9
LW 2 4 65.9 88.9

By the eye, Bennett has been significantly more creative and dynamic coming off the wing in the team’s last two games than at any other point this season. He’s been aided by a steady dose of offensive starts, but that doesn’t change the fact Bennett has played with more pace and has created far more offensively.

If this season’s small sample size doesn’t sway you, though, perhaps a look back over the last two seasons might make more of an impact. Bennett spent virtually the entire 2015-16 season on the wing but was shifted to the middle for the vast majority of last year.

Season P60 G60 CF% OZS%
2015-2016 0.87 1.61 48.7 54
2016-2017 0.49 1.22 48.7 56

Scoring rates courtesy Corsica.

So, while Bennett was slightly better on the possession side of things as a winger, it’s the disparity in scoring rates that jump off the page. There’s no coincidence here. Bennett is a more productive and effective player when the responsibilities of playing centre are removed.

There’s no saying Bennett can’t be shifted back down the road either. We’ve seen plenty of players start their NHL careers on the wing despite playing centre at lower levels. But for now, the Flames need to get the most out of Bennett, and the best way to do that is to keep him on the wing.

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