April 25 2014 10:18AM
Sam Bennett will turn 18 one week before the 2014 NHL entry draft. His belated birthday present to himself will be hearing his name called early in the draft, most likely within the top five picks. Bennett told me is 6'1" and 180 pounds, and that he plans to add between 5-10 pounds this summer before he heads to an NHL camp.
I spoke with Bennett yesterday and we discussed his feisty, two-way game, Aaron Ekblad and why he feels more comfortable playing centre rather than on the wing.
Bennett is very determined to be an NHL player, and whichever team drafts him, they will be getting an extremely competitive player.
Gregor: How would you describe your game?
Bennett: A two-way forward who isn’t afraid to lay the body and get involved in the chippy stuff as well as being able to create some offense and put the puck in the net.
Gregor: Your general manager is Doug Gilmour and a lot of people say ‘this guy is kind of like Doug Gilmour’ and for a current NHLer some suggest Jonathan Toews. Do you see a comparison at all?
Bennett: Ah, yeah, well I don’t know if I
can say a comparison, but I can definitely say that I try to model my game off
of them. They’re definitely unbelievable players, and they’re definitely guys
that I’ve looked up to in the past. If people are comparing me to those guys,
that’s definitely really special.
Gregor: Has Doug talked to you about your game because he was a pretty ferocious player who was highly competitive. He wasn’t the biggest guy on the ice, but he battled really hard. Have you had those conversations with him?
Bennett: We haven’t talked too much about my style of play but he’s definitely, he’s definitely been there for me. If I needed advice on something or if I need help with anything I could just go to him and talk to him and he has so much experience and when he gives advice it definitely helps a lot.
Gregor: I saw you throw down in a really spirited scrap as a 17 year old in junior, something not many skilled guys are willing to do. Where does that feistiness come from, have you always had that in your game?
Bennett: Yeah, ever since I was growing up, I always used to play with the physical edge and always loved to initiate and I never back away from anything. I think that that’s just something that I had my whole life and I’m going to continue to do it.
Gregor: Do teams try to take advantage of that? Do you find that they try to goad you into things?
Bennett: Ah, yeah. I did a few times. I do have a tendency to get a little bit too excited and, sometimes I lose my composure and I guess teams will try to get under my skin a little bit. But that’s going to happen, and I just have to know when to initiate and when to settle down and do what’s best for my team.
Gregor: It’s a fine line isn’t it Sam; you want to be a guy that plays with an edge, and if you play that way every now and then you’re likely going to cross that line.
Bennett: Yeah, for sure. Definitely Todd Gills has been working with me on that this year and there is definitely a really fine line between playing with an edge and crossing the line.
Gregor: What is your workout schedule like between now and the draft?
Bennett: I’m still resting right now. I’m going to start up with my trainer Andy O’Brien sometime next week and just go to work five times a week as hard as I can and try to get ready for the Combine at the end May and get ready for next season.
Gregor: So you’re working out five times a day and you’re still finishing up High School?
Bennett: I’m still finishing up High School so it is pretty hectic right now, but once I’m done that it’s a little easier in the summer.
Gregor: You got any classes you enjoy in High School? What’s your favourite ?
Bennett: Ah…. Probably gym class. [Laughs] For most hockey players that’s their favourite class.
Gregor: Do you have a tutor in Kingston?
Bennett: I didn’t have one in Kingston, no, but there was definitely one available if I needed one. but we had great support on the ice as well as off of the ice. Education, development and we had a bunch of people supporting us in any aspects of our life really
Gregor: You’re a 17 year old player leading his team in scoring; there is a lot of pressure and a lot of responsibility. Are you a guy that’s a leader naturally?
Bennett: Yeah, I’d like to think so. I guess I’m not one of the older guys on the team, but still I always try to lead by example more than anything on the ice as well as off of the ice. So, that’s actually something that I’ve always played with and I always try to be as much of a leader as I can.
Gregor: Who was your biggest personal rival in the Ontario Hockey League this year?
Bennett: Ah… I’d say Scott Laughton from the Oshawa Generals. We had one pretty good scrap this year and every time we’ve played it’s been pretty frisky that’s for sure.
Gregor: Are you better when you’re emotionally involved in a game?
Bennett: Yeah, I think so. I say that there is a line again, if I get too emotionally involved it will throw me off of my game, but if I’m in the game and I’m hitting and I’m getting in the dirty areas that’s definitely when I’m playing my best.
Gregor: What do you want to improve this off season as far as your physical attributes? Is there one area that you want to focus on that will make you better on the ice?
Bennett: Well definitely I need to get a little bit bigger, a little bit stronger in every aspect but I’d say that one thing that I would be looking to improve is definitely leg strength. That will allow me to be able to battle in the corners and hold my balance. You never know where I will be playing next year, there could be a lot bigger guys so I’ll definitely have to be prepared for anything.
Gregor: What do you do away from hockey so you’re not hockey all of the time, what are some of your hobbies?
Bennett: Well, in the summer I have a cottage up in Haliburton [Ontario] and I like to get up there and water ski and go fishing and I love all of that stuff, so I definitely try to get up there a few times each summer and just get away from it for a while.
Gregor: What’s the biggest fish you ever caught?
Bennett: Ah… probably 10 pounds.
Gregor: Ok, not bad.
Bennett: I’m not ot a pro fisher.
Gregor: No, but you’re young man. You’ve got a lot of time. Tell me about Todd Gill as a head coach, what made him good?
Bennett: He’s got the experience. He played many years in the NHL so he was a great, great coach and he knew when to be hard on you and when to let off a little. So he definitely was always there to give good advice and he was a great coach for us.
Gregor: You described yourself as a two-way player, not many young offensive players are concerned with being good defensive players. Where did that willingness to want to be a great two-way player come from?
Bennett: Well, again, always growing up I wasn’t all offense. I was always looking after the defensive zone as well. So to play in the NHL, which is obviously the ultimate goal, you can’t just be one dimensional, you’ve got to be able to play the full 200 foot game, so that’s definitely part of the game that I’ve always been working on.
Gregor: What is the hardest part about playing defence?
Bennett: I’d say when you’re trapped in your own end for a little and the other team has the cycle going and you’re bagged from being in the offensive zone, and now you’ve got to come in and work as hard as you can in the defensive zone. That’s definitely when it gets a little tough.
Gregor: Do you feel you’re more of a shooter or a play maker?
Bennett: Ah, I’d like to think that I’m more of a play maker, but I’m also not afraid to shoot the puck as well.
Gregor: Did you play the point in the power point at all in Kingston?
Bennett: I tried it for a while, but it didn’t really work out too well, so we went back to just leaving me on the half wall.
Gregor: What was it that didn’t work out?
Bennett: I don’t know. Maybe it was just that I wasn’t as comfortable there as I am on the half wall. I’ve never really played that part of the game, so it was a little different for me being up there, but Todd Gill and the other part of our coaching staff definitely helped to figure out what worked best for our team.
Gregor: How do you look at the overall, long term success of your career, do you think that the NHL is the best step for you at this point?
Bennett: Ah, well.. Obviously it is going to be this goal my summer to work as hard as I can to be able to make that team in September, but you know… whatever happens, whatever the NHL team decides to do is going to be fine with me. If they decide to send me back to Junior, I’m going to work as hard as I can to get ready for the next step to be able to move up.
Gregor: Do you find yourself looking at the draft order and doing a mock draft thinking ‘hey I think that this team might take this guy, I think that this team might take this guy and they might take me?
Bennett: Yeah, I have done that a little bit maybe. I say when the draft lottery came out and we knew for sure who was picking where, you definitely start to think about who is going to take who and it goes through your head a little bit.
Gregor: Did you ever see yourself being taken by the Edmonton Oilers?
Bennett: [Laughs] You never know, it could happen.
Gregor: You’ve played about Ekblad give me your scouting report, what’s the best part of Ekblad’s game?
Bennett: He’s a great player. I’ve played with him for a while now and he’s unbelievably strong and he’s definitely got one of the hardest shots that I’ve ever seen. When he has it on the point, you’ve got to get in the shooting lanes, or it’s probably going to end up in the back of the net for sure.
Gregor: Have you played only centre, or do you switch between centre and wing this year?
Bennett: Not this year. I did it a little bit before, but I’d say I’ve mostly played centre this year. I am comfortable on the wing, it’s just wherever the coach wants me to play, and that’s where I’ll play.
Gregor: What do you like better about centre than the wing?
Bennett: I’d say you get more ice, you get more room, you’re not trapped up along the sideboards and you definitely can generate more speed up the middle.
Bennett is an offensive player who takes pride in his defensive play, which is rare for most 17 year olds. Everyone loves his competitiveness and drive. He wants the puck and he isn't afraid to go into the tough areas with it. I love the fact that he has skill, but also plays with some passion, and admits that at times his fire gets the best of him. He'll work on it, but I'd rather have a player you need to calm down than one you need to constantly prod to get inspired.
The one concern about Bennett is his size. Ross Maclean, head scout for ISS hockey said, "The one concern with Bennett is his frame. Winning space at the next level is very difficult."
A concern doesn't mean it is a red flag. Every player has some concerns about their game, but most scouts feel Bennett's internal fire and drive will make him a successful NHL player.
Our 2nd annual King/Queen of Karaoke goes on Friday May 23rd.
If you think you can sing, or know someone who can get them to email a short 30 second-1 minute video audition tape to firstname.lastname@example.org before May 15th. We will pick the top-12 videos, and they along with a few guest celebrity Karaokiers will battle it out on May 23rd.
This year's winner will win $1,000.
Last year was a great night and the performances were top notch, and the odd one was a tad off key, Struds, but it was a great night.
Tickets are $30/each with 100% of the proceeds going to the MS Bike Tour, and with your $30 ticket you get a free drink at the door and $45 in gift certificates from On The Rocks and Oodle Noodle. So you make money by supporting the cause. You can buy your tickets here.
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