Sam Bennett didn’t sound all that thrilled when he was reassigned to the Kingston Frontenacs following his successful recovery from shoulder surgery.
That’s not to say, of course, that the 2014 fourth overall pick was pouting or petulant. He knew as well as anyone that the team ultimately has his best interests at heart — rather, he sounded like the kind of player who pushed through a surgery-required injury just in the hopes of getting a shot at the starting NHL lineup this past fall. All he wants to do is play — and play well, at that — so it’s barely a surprise that he’s so adamant in his desire to be as useful as possible.
Sure enough, he’s taking that hard-driving attitude and using it to prove to the Calgary Flames — the team that drafted him this past summer in Philadelphia, and subsequently sent him back to the major juniors to finish out the season post-recovery — that even if he’s playing in the OHL this season, he wants to hit that starting NHL lineup next year without any doubts. He’s got the kind of leadership teams covet and dream about every year — and sure enough, he’s bringing his A-game for Kingston while he’s still there.
Bennett was named the OHL Player of the Week for the week of March 8th to March 15th, posting six goals and four assists in his three games that week. He led the league in scoring with those ten points — something that’s harder to do than one might expect, considering he’s competing in a league with Connor McDavid and Mitch Marner. He has eleven goals and ten assists with the Frontenacs since his return — and that was nine games ago. At this pace, he’ll finish out the season with fifty points. If you thought Team Canada was dominant at the World Junior Championships this winter, just imagine how they could have been with Bennett on the ice as well — the center depth that would have provided is unreal to imagine.
With his goal-scoring tear, Bennett has helped the Frontenacs achieve what many had observed they were lacking prior to his return — a true offensive drive. The team’s goaltending has been superb — netminder Lucas Peressini has a .921 SV% on the season, allowing only 2.35 GAA for a somewhat struggling Kingston roster pre-Bennett — but as fellow forward Lawson Crouse pointed out in the weeks leading up to Bennett’s return, the goal scoring just wasn’t there. Now, the team sits comfortably in sixth place in the Eastern Conference as the Frontenacs prepare for the post-season; although there’s no guarantee they’ll make a deep playoff run, Kingston is happy to at least be sitting in a comfortable playoff position.
If the Frontenacs fail to make a deep playoff run, the Flames would be wise to pull Bennett up from the major juniors in the instance of their own post-season appearance; the fact that they’re still struggling to see a comfortable hold on a playoff position, though, suggests that the decision to send the eighteen-year-old forward back down was likely the smarter decision after all. He’s proving that the talent he’ll bring on board next season is worth the wait — and without any kind of sulking attitude (only a healthy, nearly terrifying sense of determination), Sam Bennett is showing that he’s got the makings of a future leader in Calgary. Not bad, considering the position we all thought Calgary would be in at this point.