With less than 12 hours until the draft begins, it’s time to take a look at one of the most important players in this year’s draft class. We’ve already gone through the top 29 players expected to be selected tomorrow- but what about the number one?
Hockey fans may know him as Central Scouting’s top North American prospect, but most people- both within the hockey community and beyond- also know him as “that guy who couldn’t even do one single pull-up at the Combine a few weeks ago”. Either way, we all want to know- what’s the deal with Sam Bennett?
Bennett may not be the biggest player, and he may not have the kind of insane playing experience that defensive prospect Aaron Ekblad is walking around with. This Holland Landing, Ontario native has been pushing himself to the top of the list to look at over the past year or two, though. With 36 goals and 55 assists during his 2013-2014 season with the OHL Kingston Frontenacs and a gold medal from the 2013 U18 World Championships as a part of the Canadian U18 national team, Bennett has shown that he’s here to compete- and has the kind of work ethic that will keep him here to stay.
What a team will get when they draft him:
With coaches and scouts alike comparing Bennett’s mental focus to that of centers like Jonathan Toews and Patrice Bergeron, the team that drafts Bennett will be receiving a mature and dependable player. At eighteen, it’s hard to be the kind of mature player that everyone expects you to be- after all, look at some of the interviews given by Bennett’s former teammate, Josh Ho-Sang- but Bennett seems to have the kind of natural inclination to work hard and focus on what’s important that a team will be glad to have. Teams such as Nashville that need scorers, or Florida- who need more leadership and overall unity- will make good homes for this kind of maturity.
“Bennett is a self-described workaholic and perfectionist”
Bennett has the kind of work ethic that can lead a young team to develop into a cup contender with time and age, so whoever drafts him will need to keep that in mind. Bennett has the ability to do for a younger team what Jonathan Toews did for Chicago, and even has the kind of collected demeanor that could make him a strong young captain, should he so desire.
Bennett isn’t all intangible skill, though. While he isn’t a big or flashy player, he makes up for this with immense speed, dexterity, and flexible ice presence. He has great passing ability, and racks up an impressive number of goals- probably due largely in part to the hours he spends standing on his driveway at home, firing shot after shot through his parent’s garage door. He leads by example not only in behavior, but in statistics- the team that drafts Sam Bennett is looking at someone who will make a difference whether he starts for the AHL affiliate or moves right into the big leagues.
Most underrated skill:
Tons of players in this draft class have been cited as smart playmakers- but what separates Bennett from everyone else is the well-developed aspect of his all-around game. Not only can he push forward and score, but he knows when to be physical and fall back to protect his own end of the ice, as well. He’s an effective back-checker, and has even suggested that he can fight if needed. Not many of the forwards in this particular draft class have this kind of balanced game, and it will serve Bennett well.
What he still needs to work on:
Of course, no one can forget the Combine pull-up fiasco, when Sam Bennett- who went to the Combine as the top North American prospect to be looked at- was unable to do even a single pull-up. While Bennett has made it his goal to show up at training camp this summer with this setback behind him, it suggests that he still has some physical growing and developing to do. As an all-around player, Bennett needs to be not only fast enough and talented enough to score, but physically fit enough to duke it out with the big guys in the NHL- and while it has been argued that pull-ups don’t necessarily indicate how game-ready a player is, it does suggest that Bennett might need to develop into a more all-around imposing figure on the ice.