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BENNETT A CORE PIECE FOR THE FLAMES

GM Brad Treliving sees the young pivot as a difference-maker for his club

by GEORGE JOHNSON @GJohnsonFlames / CalgaryFlames.com

That Sam Bennett playoff model is what they see up ahead on the horizon and what he aspires to. 

Abrasive, incisive, defining. 

About as much fun to run into as a 6-foot-1,185-pound hunk of pink asbestos insulation.

"Sam Bennett," lauded Flames' GM Brad Treliving following the first-round post-season ouster by the Anaheim Ducks, "had a real impact on the series. At the hardest time of the year.

"You look at that Anaheim team down the middle of the ice, pick your poison. He was playing against (Ryan) Kesler a lot. 

"To me, he set the tone for us. 

"He was a snarly SOB to play against. He has no problem with that type of game, on the road, in a hostile setting. 

"To me that's a big step. It's a real building block for him."

The Bennett building blocks will continue to rise here through 2019, and hopefully beyond.

"I felt really good in those playoffs,'' acknowledged the 21-year-old centreman on Wednesday night, hours after agreeing to a two-year contract that allows everyone involved with, or rooting for, the Flames to sit back and exhale.

"I put a lot of pressure on myself and last (regular) season (13 goals, 26 points) wasn't what I wanted, or expected,'' acknowledged Bennett.

"It's obviously a new year now. But whatever confidence from that playoff I can use, I'll use. I'll take it into training camp and then the beginning of the year.

"I'm just really looking forward to the opportunity to show over the next two years what I'm worth."

The deal, with an AAV of $1.95 million, avoids any chance of him missing any time at training camp. As critically, it provides a two-year window for a highly-regarded 21-year-old to expand his influence heading into his third pro contract.

It allows him the time to grow as a difference-maker at a dollar figure the Flames are comfortable with.

Win-win.

"This is the first time going to through (contact negotiations) for me,'' said Bennett, who celebrated the pay increase with a family dinner - parents, sister, grandparents - back home in Holland Landing, Ont. "So I wasn't sure about how it would go.

"I'm just a hockey player. That's what I do. My agent took care of most of the business side. It was interesting to go through the process. Nerve-wracking? A little bit.

"But the goal was always for me to be there for training camp."

Treliving's, too.

"Camp was approaching,'' he said Wednesday. "We have some time yet. But to get him done, in on time, was paramount. For everybody.

"Especially for a young guy like Sam.

"I know he's really eager to get going. We think he's a terrific talent. He's going to be a big part of this team now and in the future. I think he's going to have a terrific year.

"The best thing for him is no to be worrying about contracts. It's about playing. This gives him the stability to focus on what's in front of all of us - training camp and having the best season possible."

While the extended negotiations went into early September, Treliving was confident a deal would be done before his troops descended upon the city for training camp.

"This is just the business,'' reasoned Treliving. "There's always a little bit of noise around it.

"It's about evaluating a player, where he is now, where he will be, and putting that in the greater context of your team. You want to be fair to every guy, but as I tell 'em: I've got 23 mouths to feed.

"We want to look after you, we want to make it work for you but you're trying to fit that into your own structure and trying to win. The business side has tug-and-pull to it. When you live in a hard-cap system there's only so much pie to go around.

"We both ended up in a good spot - Sam, the team."

With Treliving adding the likes of Mike Smith, Eddie Lack and Travis Hamonic over the course of the off-season and the natural progression of the team's youth, Bennett has high hopes for his club going forward.

"Some of the moves we've made this summer are really exciting. You get that sense talking to the guys. Our team looks really promising. This is as excited as I've ever been going into a training camp.

"So getting this done is definitely a relief. You want to be there, to be part of it all.

"I'm just excited to get to Calgary, hopefully this weekend.

"I've been kind of kicking myself that I'm not there. So I'm definitely pumped to get back with all the guys, get on the ice, and get this started."

The feeling's entirely mutual.

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