If the Calgary Flames are going to improve upon a 2016-17 campaign that saw them finish seventh in the Western Conference and get swept in the opening round of the playoffs, Sam Bennett needs to be one of the players to step up his game.
“In a lot of ways I think Sam is a big key to our team going into this year,” Flames general manager Brad Treliving told Hockey Central at Noon Wednesday. “Last year I think we’d all agree he was probably not — statistically and production-wise — where we had all hoped [he’d be] but there was a lot of learning for Sam.”
Bennett is aiming for a bounce-back season after failing to improve on the 18 goals and 36 points he recorded as a rookie in 2015-16. Treliving believes a season like 2016-17 in which Bennett often struggled — he was a healthy scratch for one game in January — will benefit the 21-year-old in the long run.
“It’s such a hard position to play, centre, it was a learning year for Sam,” Treliving explained. “The coaches stuck him in a lot of situations. You see a lot of times with those young guys that came up playing centre they’ll break into the league on the wing. I think we put a lot in the bank last year in terms of getting Sam experience at centre ice.”
Despite being drafted as a high-end offensive talent, the former Kingston Frontenacs standout will likely begin the 2017-18 campaign as Calgary’s third-line centre behind Sean Monahan and Mikael Backlund.
“To me, everybody talks about top-six [forwards], I think it’s a top-nine league now and I think Sam gives us more options, gives us more depth and gives us more ability down the middle,” Treliving said.
Treliving added he likes what he has seen from Bennett during the pre-season.
“I love how he’s come into camp this year both physically, mentally… he seems like he’s playing freely,” Treliving said. “It’s exhibition so you have to be careful about reading too much into this stuff but he’s been excellent thus far.”
Bennett became a restricted free agent on July 1 yet it took Treliving until Sept. 6 to re-sign him to a two-year, $3.9-million deal. That led to some speculation regarding whether or not the team would field trade offers for the 2014 fourth-overall pick, but Treliving denied that was ever part of the Flames’ thought process.