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Bennett willing to wing it for playoff opportunity

by Aaron Vickers / Calgary Flames

I wanted to show the coaching staff and management that they can trust me and that I’m going to be an asset for them. That’s what I tried to do. Obviously we’ll see what happens in the next couple of days.Sam Bennett

CALGARY, AB -- A taste didn’t appease Sam Bennett’s appetite. He wants more.

Making his NHL debut in a 5-1 loss against the Winnipeg Jets in the Calgary Flames season finale, the 18-year-old forward won’t be satisfied until he gets in another skate.

And in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, no less.

“I wanted to show the coaching staff and management that they can trust me and that I’m going to be an asset for them,” said Bennett, who took just 33 seconds to record his first NHL point -- an assist on Michael Ferland’s second career goal -- on Saturday. “That’s what I tried to do. Obviously we’ll see what happens in the next couple of days.

“That would be a huge honour. If I do get the call I’m obviously going to give it all I’ve got. It’s definitely a really exciting time here and that would be a dream come true to play in the playoffs.”

He might get the chance.

Bennett, a centre, skated primarily with Mikael Backlund, another centre, and Joe Colborne, a centre-turned-winger, at Monday’s skate.

And while coach Bob Hartley is far from finalizing his lineup for Game 1 in the Western Conference First Round with the Vancouver Canucks on Wednesday, Bennett could be well on his way to a second NHL skate.

“He's an option so my job is to prepare him,” Hartley said. “Here is a young man that didn't play very much hockey this year -- went to Kingston Played around 15 games and did quite well. There's not very much NHL experience there so we're trying to just get him ready in every phase of the game.

"It's one thing that we're going to sit with him today or tomorrow. This morning we sat as a coaching staff and looked at possibilities and started a mock lineup and there's a few lines that were set and there's a few lines that were not set.

“We're going to keep revisiting this and I love challenging my partners and making sure that we go. A good practice could change out mind and a bad practice can also change our minds so it's the same for everyone."

There’s no limiting Bennett.

Upon recalling the Holland Landing, ON native after the Kingston Frontenacs were eliminated from the Ontario Hockey League Playoffs, Flames general manager Brad Treliving played out all possible scenarios.

Among them included Bennett suiting up in enough games to burn the first year of his entry-level deal.

It’s something Treliving is fine with.

“Those are all the things, quite frankly, you go through a couple of weeks ago when you brought him here,” he said. “You play out every scenario. You don’t do something then be surprised. We looked and went through every possible scenario that can happen. This is one of them. When you get here and when become, as he did, a player that’s available that’s what you are.

“There’s no restrictions. If you’ve earned it and you’ve gotten to the point we make the decision we’re going to bring you, that means you’re available for selection. He’s not unlike any other player. The coach deems that he’s able to add something, and I know he went into that game in Winnipeg the other night trying to make sure everyone knew he was prepared and ready to play and didn’t waste long getting on the board, but that’s how you have to make decisions.

“You do all of your planning prior. Once you make it, he’s like the 24 other guys in the room. Bob decides who’s on the lineup card and if he’s in, we expect him to perform and if he’s not, he’ll wait for his opportunity.”

But Bennett’s opportunity could come out of position.

The natural centre spent practice patrolling both the middle and left wing and, against Winnipeg, took shifts at both.

A start on the wing might make for a quicker adjustment for the teenager.

“It might be easier to play wing for him right now to step in,” said Colborne, who himself has made the adjustment from pivot to winger. “You look at some of the centremen Vancouver has and especially the Sedins. When you’re on the road and you’re matched up against those guys it can be a pretty tough task. It’s going to be a lot of nerves and whether he does play on the wing or centre, he’s going to bring that energy. He’ll have a lot of nerves going but a lot of excitement, too. It’s going to be fun to watch.”

Not surprisingly, Bennett would welcome either position just to get a chance against the Canucks.

“Honestly, both positions I’ve felt the exact same comfort-wise,” he said. “Playing in Winnipeg, I played both positions and felt equally comfortable in both of them.”

Comfort and excitement will come hand-in-hand.

“It’s awesome,” Bennett said. “The excitement in the city and around the guys, it’s crazy. To be with an NHL team going into the Stanley Cup Playoffs, it’s what every kid dreams of. It’s really cool right now."

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