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Samuel Bennett Emerged As Best In 2014 Class

Thursday, 05.29.2014 / 5:57 PM / News
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Samuel Bennett Emerged As Best In 2014 Class
After one season to learn the Ontario Hockey League, Kingston Frontenacs center Samuel Bennett returned better and more confident, and in the process became the top North American skater for the 2014 NHL Draft.
Kingston Frontenacs center Samuel Bennett was the No. 1 choice from start to finish in the minds of NHL Central Scouting.

TORONTO -- A little confidence went a long way in helping jumpstart the career of Kingston Frontenacs center Samuel Bennett.

There wasn't much pressure on Bennett entering 2012-13, his first season in the Ontario Hockey League, after being the ninth pick of the 2012 OHL draft. He played his game, learned the team's system and style of play, and gradually gained a familiarity with how he needed to perform in order to be successful.

"Entering my first year I didn't really know what to expect," Bennett told NHL.com. "I didn't really have too high goals for myself. But this year I definitely was expecting a lot more and I came into the league with a lot more confidence. Winning the World Under-18 Championship [in April 2013], getting that support from teammates and the coaching staff helped with my confidence."

Bennett began the 2013-14 season on fire, with 10 goals and 20 points in his first 10 games. He never really slowed down, finishing with 36 goals and 91 points in 57 games. He was ninth in the OHL in scoring, had a plus-34 rating and went on a league-high 25-game point streak during the season in which he totaled 17 goals and 46 points.

He then had five goals and four assists in seven OHL playoff games, and was named the top prospect for the 2014 NHL Draft by the Canadian Hockey League.

The 6-foot, 178-pound left-shot forward routinely played a 200-foot game and spent all season at No. 1 on NHL Central Scouting's ranking of the top North American skaters for the 2014 draft.

In a season where predicting the No. 1 pick has been no easy task, for Bennett to spend the season atop Central Scouting's midterm ranking in January and final ranking in April is impressive.

"It's quite an accomplishment [that Bennett was No. 1 from start to finish] because we have a core of solid players up to six deep in this draft that probably could challenge for the No. 1 spot," Central Scouting's David Gregory said. "You have a wide range of experts at Central and outside of this room saying a whole bunch of different players [could go No. 1]. By again earning the No. 1 ranking in our final release and hold up to the scrutiny of a large scouting staff like this and the hockey world in general, I do think that was quite an accomplishment."

Bennett improved his offensive numbers from his rookie season across the board, and went from a minus-2 last season to his team-best plus/minus total this season. He also proved he can be physical when needed, totaling 118 penalty minutes, well above the 87 he had last season.

Does Bennett, one of 119 prospects taking part in the NHL Scouting Combine this week, believe he's NHL-ready?

"I definitely have a lot of confidence and I guess it's up to the team, but this summer I'm going to work as hard as I can and when it comes to [training] camp, I'll do everything I can to prove to them that I'm ready to stay in the NHL," Bennett said. "I do feel my hockey sense and my compete level rivals any other in this draft class. The coaching staff has been very helpful all year, providing advice and telling me not to think about [the draft] too much. So whenever I was playing, I just wanted to put it out of my head and focus on my game."

Bennett's style of play has been compared to Kingston general manager and Hockey Hall of Fame center Doug Gilmour, who spent 20 seasons in the League with seven different teams.

"I have watched video of [Gilmour] and heard about him; he was my dad's favorite player," Bennett said. "My dad used to talk about him a lot. I'd say we have similar styles because my dad taught me to play like him. I've played feisty my whole life. I've continued to play that same style."

Bennett won three league awards in voting by OHL Eastern Conference coaches, including smartest player, best playmaker and best stick-handler. He also was voted third for best defensive forward.

"Being a two-way player is really important to me," Bennett said. "You can't play in the NHL if you're a one-dimensional player. I really take pride in the 200-foot game and playing both ends of the ice, so that's really important to me."

Spencer Watson, Bennett's linemate for much of the season, said playing alongside one of the best prospects in this year's draft class was a motivation for him. Watson, No. 59 on Central Scouting's final ranking of North American skaters, had 33 goals, 68 points and a plus-31 rating in 65 games.

"You are kind of forced to step up your game," Watson said of playing with Bennett. "I want to be at my best whenever I played with him; it certainly helped raise my game."

Bennett prepared for the Scouting Combine with athletic trainer Andy O'Brien, who has a number of prominent NHL clients, further preparing him for a possible jump to the NHL.

"He's so smart and it's really cool to train alongside players like Jeff Skinner and Jason Spezza," Bennett said. "It makes you even more determined when you see how hard those professional players train and how focused they are while training."

Follow Mike Morreale on Twitter at: @mikemorrealeNHL

Author: Mike G. Morreale | NHL.com Staff Writer

SCHEDULE

HOME
AWAY
PROMOTIONAL

STANDINGS

WESTERN CONFERENCE
  TEAM GP W L OT GF GA PTS
1 NSH 61 41 13 7 186 143 89
2 ANA 62 38 17 7 182 174 83
3 STL 61 39 18 4 190 152 82
4 CHI 62 37 20 5 183 146 79
5 WPG 63 31 20 12 174 170 74
6 VAN 61 35 23 3 174 162 73
7 LAK 59 29 18 12 162 152 70
8 CGY 61 33 24 4 174 158 70
9 MIN 60 31 22 7 169 158 69
10 SJS 61 30 23 8 171 174 68
11 DAL 61 27 25 9 191 202 63
12 COL 61 26 24 11 161 175 63
13 ARI 62 20 35 7 137 210 47
14 EDM 62 18 34 10 142 206 46

STATS

2014-2015 REGULAR SEASON
SKATERS: GP G A +/- Pts
J. Pavelski 61 31 24 12 55
L. Couture 61 21 31 3 52
J. Thornton 57 12 39 -2 51
B. Burns 61 16 29 -2 45
P. Marleau 61 12 31 -13 43
T. Wingels 54 12 15 -4 27
T. Hertl 61 10 14 -3 24
J. Braun 50 1 19 3 20
M. Vlasic 56 7 11 11 18
M. Karlsson 32 9 7 3 16
 
GOALIES: W L OT Sv% GAA
A. Niemi 24 15 7 .913 2.60
A. Stalock 5 7 1 .899 2.85
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