Sam Bennett (Gerry Thomas/NHLI via Getty Images)
The Flames rookie became the third-youngest player in NHL history to score a hat trick and then added another for good measure. Check out the highlights of a player who is quickly getting back on track after some adversity.
Calgary Flames rookie Sam Bennett had hockey historians on high alert last night as he became the third-youngest player ever to score four goals in an NHL game (only Bobby Carpenter and Jack Hamilton were younger). Impressively, they were all really nice tallies:
Bennett now has five goals in his past two games, which were proceeded by an 18-game goalless streak in which he had just one assist. Not that the kid is foreign to adversity. He missed almost all of last season due to shoulder surgery, getting into just one regular season game with the Flames after a late stint with his junior team, the OHL's Kingston Frontenacs.
But that extended vacation seemed to help for the playoffs, where Bennett contributed four points in Calgary's 11-game post-season. Points have been harder to come by this year – which is still Bennett's Calder-eligible campaign, by the way – but Flames fans must be hoping that recent returns represent a watershed.
Bennett has the potential to be a fantastic NHLer thanks to his speed, excellent hockey sense and a diversity of game that runs from finesse to chippy. And let's face it; we're just seeing the beginning of his career.
With the amount of preparation and size that today's teen players have, it's easy to forget how much experience and man-strength means in the NHL (unless you're Johnny Gaudreau – he's just a freakishly talented outlier). But we're already seeing the class of 2014 emerge.
Buffalo's Sam Reinhart had his first hat trick recently, while Leon Draisaitl is Edmonton's second-leading scorer and a point-per-gamer. And what about the top pick in that draft, Florida's Aaron Ekblad? Well, here's a fun anecdote for you: I was asking an NHL exec about 2016 prospect Jakob Chychrun the other day. The exec told me that the OHL Sarnia product was "without question the best defenseman in the draft," but then stopped himself from comparing Chychrun to Ekblad.
"Ekblad was just a man among boys in his draft year," he said.
And the Panthers blueliner is already justifying his top selection by having a smashing campaign with the surprising Cats after winning the Calder Trophy last season.
Circling back to Bennett, it's weird to judge the Flames as a whole right now because they weren't supposed to be good last year, but went to the second round of the playoffs anyway. This should still be a rebuilding season, not a letdown – so seeing Calgary third-last in the Western Conference actually makes sense. In two or three years, when Bennett, Gaudreau and Sean Monahan are at the heights of their powers (and, let's assume, Mark Giordano is still a very good defenseman while Dougie Hamilton has settled in more), that is when we should be expecting huge things from the Flames.
In the meantime, we can all enjoy the genesis of Bennett's offensive prowess at the NHL level…I mean, Florida's goaltenders didn't enjoy it, but you know what I mean.