Calgary Flames fans feared what would happen when the team traded its former first-round draft pick.
Turns out that fear was justified.
Although Sam Bennett never quite lived up to his status as the highest draft pick ever made by the Calgary Flames franchise, his second chance down south with the Florida Panthers has been pretty incredible.
Adding his ninth goal of the season on Friday night, Bennett now has 15 goals and 29 points in 32 regular-season games with the Panthers following his trade from the Flames last year. He added a goal and five points in five playoff contests with the Cats last spring, too.
“A lot of people talked to me about how a change of scenery can really revitalize a career and change the way things go,” Bennett told the Hockey News after signing a new deal with the Panthers this summer. “I knew I still had a lot more to give and more to show as a player. I thought I could do a lot more than what I was doing in Calgary. Sometimes that’s all it takes, a little bit of a change, a GM and a coach that believe in you and that’s definitely what I got in Florida.”
Bennett asked for that change of scenery in a confusing version of what is now playing out with Jake DeBrusk and the Boston Bruins – who are here in Calgary for Saturday night’s Hockey Night in Canada matchup.
After talking to Bennett’s agent, Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman reported last January that Bennett had asked for a trade. Then the Flames organization disputed it. And when the team brought Darryl Sutter back to coach, Bennett started to play well again and both player and coach seemed to move past it.
Days after the NHL trade talk seemed to be squashed, he was dealt to the Panthers for a second-round pick and prospect Emil Heineman.
The Panthers have no regrets. Bennett has been a beast. The Flames? They were in a tough spot, like the Bruins are in now.
Boston wants equal value in any deal, which means a player that can help them win this year. The Calgary Flames might be able to convince the Bruins to take a look at Nikita Zadorov. The Boston defence has been lacking a towering defenceman with a physical presence since letting Zdeno Chara walk away. With Zadorov on a one-year deal, the Flames might have to sweeten the pot, but it could be a starting point in their conversations.
You have to wonder if things will work out for DeBrusk and his new team the way it has for Bennett in Florida. Bennett had more draft hype as the fourth overall pick in 2014. DeBrusk went 14th overall one year later and had NHL bloodlines elevating his status. (Sidebar: Dad, Louie, was calling colour on the Oilers/Bruins game the other night when his son scored, stirring up some feels on the broadcast).
Bennett’s rookie season was delayed a year because of shoulder surgery but he put up 18 goals and 36 points in 77 games in 2015-16. After his draft, DeBrusk played another year of junior and then spent a season in the AHL before jumping to the NHL in 2017-18. His numbers were even more promising than Bennett’s. DeBrusk netted 16 goals and 43 points in 70 games as a freshman.
While Bennet’s numbers never got back to that rookie level with the Calgary Flames, DeBrusk exploded for 27 goals in just 68 games in his second season, and then another 19 in 65 games the following year.
The drop was steep for DeBrusk last year. And while he has two goals in four games since asking for a trade, things haven’t been great for the 25-year-old this year, either.
Looking for the Bennett rebirth, DeBrusk now just has to wait patiently for his fresh start. The Flames get to see first-hand what that might look like on Saturday.