Kingston foward Sam Bennett rates #1 in NHL Central Scouting's mid-term report. While it's no lock that he stays there, it's a safe bet that he'll go right at the top of the NHL Entry Draft. Should the Sabres be targeting him? Jeremy White has the report in this Hockey Prospect Watch.
Prior to Thursday’s game between the Kingston Frontenacs and Niagara Ice Dogs, Howard and I spoke with Fronts Head Coach Todd Gill. Formerly an NHLer himself, and a teammate of Doug Gilmour (the Fronts GM), Gill had plenty of good things to say about his top forward.
“He’s one of those players that every time he has the puck you get to the edge of your seat. He’s the type of player that every coach loves because he can play the game any way you want. He’s a very exciting player and has a very bright future.”
“Can stickhandle in a phone booth. He’s one of the faster players that we have. He has great vision.”
“He’s just scratching the surface. He’s a big kid, has a lot of room to put a lot of weight on and when he does he’s only going to get stronger in the corners. Right now for a 17 year old he has one of the strongest sticks, you can’t take the puck off him, when he wants it he battles you hard, he’s like a hound dog on a rabbit.”
“He does everything that Doug did. He’s a very intense player. He’s a very creative offensive player and yet he’s a very sound defensive player.”
“He’s my #1 guy.”
It’s that last piece that I’ll work with. Through the first two periods of what ended a 5-4 OT win for Kingston, Bennett was good. There wasn’t anything about his game that would have screamed out “#1 overall pick” the way that you see it with Connor McDavid. He was solid in his defensive coverage, and played with great intensity.
As the top center for the Fronts, Bennett plays in all situations. He was the first forward over the boards for the penalty kill, and on one particular sequence Kingston took another penalty to drop down two men. Bennett circled back after the call from the official right back to the face-off circle. There wasn’t any doubt that he’d be taking the draw and playing as the lone forward on the 5 on 3 kill.
Bennett’s offensive ability isn’t talked about on the level of a Steven Stamkos or of any other top scorer in the NHL. However, he’s consistently talked about as one of the best of this class. How does he stack up with his peers this year? The answer is, very well.
He’s responsible defensively, and a smart player with good hockey sense according to Gill. There were flashes of offensive ability as the game went along.
While Bennett’s first and second period could be described as pedestrian, things changed in the third. He took control of the game a bit. The only time he was neutralized was during a four minute high-sticking penalty where he was sent to the box for accidentally clipping a player up high. The incident happened after he hit the blue line with speed, dropped a pass to his winger and barreled toward the net. Bennett had to sit for four minutes before taking control yet again.
On one shift there was a battle along the way, on the opposite side of the Kingston bench. He leaped over the boards, flew over and deftly took the puck out of the scrum before curling and streaking back into the offensive zone.
He was having a nice night. One assist through regulation as the game was tied at 4-4. In overtime…he broke this out:
It was a great finish to a strong game. I saw the speed and stickhandling. I saw the relentlessness of his stick work on the forecheck. He went after one man like a lumberjack, hacking and chopping away his stick to jam it free or force a bad pass. It was the kind of play that would have reminded many of Doug Gilmour and fueled the comparison. He broke back on a puck to pursue the Ice Dogs on a zone exit. After a steal and a scoring chance, it was back to work once more.
Some scouts refer to Bennett as a warrior. With the scoring ability that he showcases, he’d be quite a nice player at the top of the draft. I don't think I saw anything close to his best game, but maybe that's even better. If Thursday night is what I can expect to get from Sam Bennett, that works for me.
#1? NHL Central Scouting says yes, for now.
**To Ice Dog fans**
I saw Brendan Perlini. He's been hurt but made his return to the lineup on Thursday and YES I was impressed. Very impressed. He's generally pegged as a mid-first round pick, and I'll likely profile him a bit closer to the draft.