CALGARY, AB -- No goals. No assists. No points.
Three point-less skates to start the season doesn’t have anyone up in arms over the early-season performance of Sam Bennett. The rookie included.
“I think I’ve played okay,” the 19-year-old Bennett offered as a self-assessment. “I expect a lot of myself and I think I can bring a lot more to the table. I think I’ve played pretty sound so far. Obviously, I want to improve my game.”
Johnny Gaudreau understands the struggle. He’s been there.
“That’s the main thing, not gripping the stick too hard, not questioning yourself and trying to make too many plays,” Gaudreau said. “You’ve just got to relax out there. He’s a younger guy so it’s going to be a little bit more difficult. Hopefully I helped him out a bit and that he finds the net here soon.”
Bennett had one assist -- on his first shift -- in his regular season debut against the Winnipeg Jets in Game 82. He added three goals and an assist in 11 post-season tilts split between the Vancouver Canucks and Anaheim Ducks, too.
Gaudreau, like Bennett, made his NHL debut in Game 82, but of the 2013-14 season. Also like Bennett, he emerged from the contest with his first NHL point.
Then, Gaudreau went five straight games without a point to start the following year.
“He played his first game last season had a point and did well in the playoffs,” detailed Gaudreau, who currently leads the Flames with four assists and five points. “I had my first game in Vancouver and my first goal. The season started and it started off slow and I told him to relax. It’s not the end of the world. It’s a long season. Last time I played in Winnipeg, I had my coming out party, so I feel for him coming into Winnipeg here.”
Gaudreau rebounded in his sixth game against the Winnipeg Jets recording a goal and an assist to break the goose egg. The drought ended.
And it started a flood that saw Gaudreau finish with 24 goals and 64 points, and earn a nomination for the Calder Trophy as the NHL’s rookie of the year.
“He needs to relax here,” Gaudreau said. “He’ll play his game, he’s getting chances, and he’ll find the net soon enough.”
“I actually talked to him about that last night,” said Bennett, who will face the Jets on Friday-- his fourth game of the year. “He told me it took him five games and then he got a goal and an assists and then it started rolling for him. He told me not to worry about that and just play my game.”
The 19-year-old isn’t completely engulfed with his stats line, though.
And coach Bob Hartley has made sure to drill that home in his freshman forward.
“We’ve already had that meeting,” Hartley said. “Kids rate their game with the score sheet. If their name is on the score sheet, they feel that they had a good game and that’s not always the case, especially at centre where there are so many more responsibilities. We’re asking Sammy to play the game in all three zones. We want him to be responsible.”
Again, Gaudreau is the example.
“Look at Johnny last year and look at Johnny this year. It’s unbelievable,” Hartley said. “Once Sammy will have gone around the league and played everyone….still many games and many months to go. He’s 19 years old. Ninety-nine percent of those kids play junior, and he’s playing at the NHL game. Let’s remember this and at the same time we’re working video and before and after practice with him. We’re in a phase that we want to get him better as soon as possible.”
And in that, Bennett understands the points will come.
He also knows that they come secondary.
“I’m here to help my team win and that’s my main focus,” Bennett said. “It’s nice to get the points, but the coaching staff won’t let you play if you’re scoring one goal but letting up two. You’re not going to play.”