It was a matter of if, not when, Sam Bennett found a new address. Once it was floated from his agent, Darren Ferris, in January that Bennett desired a change of scenery, the toothpaste couldn’t go back in the tube. It finally happened on deadline-day Monday, with Calgary trading the left winger to the Florida Panthers for prospect Emil Heineman and a 2022 second-round draft pick.
Since the Flames drafted Bennett fourth overall in 2014, during which he’d earned Doug Gilmour comparisons when scouts projected his ceiling, Bennett only produced in fits and starts. He showed ferocity on the forecheck but couldn’t establish himself over the long term as a reliable scoring-line presence, or the Flames didn’t trust him in the role, or a bit of both. It was a classic chicken-and-egg scenario.
Bennett, 24, never produced at a level even close to his supposed potential but also never received a role reflecting the modestly useful impact he made at 5-on-5, grading out as above average in shot generation and physical play. On a Florida Panthers team lacking depth at left wing, he’ll get a fresh start. Behind Jonathan Huberdeau, their No. 2 left winger job has been a revolving door including Mason Marchment, Frank Vatrano and Anthony Duclair. That Bennett isn’t a clear upgrade over any of them should qualify as a minor disappointment if you’re a Panthers fan, but he certainly upgrades the team’s depth. It’ll also be interesting to see how he responds with an all-time great coach in Joel Quenneville, who has always been adept at finding ways to maximize his players’ potential via line matching.
There may be an assumption Florida wanted Bennett for his playoff prowess. He has a reputation for elevating his play in the post-season, with 11 goals in 30 games, but a deeper look suggests his playoff numbers are driven by an elevated shooting percentage, so it’s not a guarantee he becomes ‘Playoff Bennett’ again. Playoff Bennett might just be the product of some good puck luck.
Bennett had started to heat up a bit under new coach Darryl Sutter in Calgary, with five points in four games leading up to the trade, but it was still quite a win for GM Brad Treliving to get a second-round pick and a prospect for Bennett given the Boston Bruins paid a second-round pick and Anders Bjork to get Curtis Lazar and a Hart Trophy winner in Taylor Hall, as pointed out by Flames reporter Darren Haynes. As for the prospect acquired: left winger Heineman, 19, was rated as the Panthers’ No. 9 prospect by our panel of active NHL scouts and executives in Future Watch 2021. He’s described in those pages as a two-way power winger with good skating and work ethic. Heineman is considered a heart-and-soul player who can play anywhere in a lineup. He repped Sweden at the 2020 world juniors and has transitioned to playing against men with Leksand in the Swedish League. His ceiling may be something similar to what Bennett has done at the NHL level, oddly enough.
So the Flames did reasonably well with their return for Bennett. The only problem with not securing a roster player coming back their way: the expansion draft. If their roster stays as is, they’ll likely use a 7-3-1 scheme and protect forwards Johnny Gaudreau, Sean Monahan, Elias Lindholm, Matthew Tkachuk, Mikael Backlund, Andrew Mangiapane and Dillon Dube – but they’ll be depending on Milan Lucic to waive his no-movement clause for that to happen. Assuming he’s willing to do that, they should make out OK, and it’ll mean they got something tangible for Bennett rather than losing him to the Seattle Kraken for nothing.