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OPPORTUNITY KNOCKS

Michael Frolik has high praise for Sam Bennett, who looks to take on a bigger role this year

by RYAN DITTRICK @ryandittrick / CalgaryFlames.com

Sam Bennett is picking up where he left off.

And in the eyes of a linemate, the young winger looks poised to break out.  

"What I see," said Michael Frolik, following a turn together on the Flames' top line Friday, "is that every year, he gets a little better.

"He's at the point right now where he's been around for a little while and it should be his time, right?

"He's at his best age right now, he's got some experience. … You can see that he can drive the net, he's throwing the body around, and he can even drop the gloves if needed.

"He's a good player and, so far, I've enjoyed playing with him."

If the early returns of pre-season are worth reading into, that much is obvious.

At 23, and with another exceptional playoff showing under his belt, the smart money was on Bennett taking on a larger, offensively minded role with the Flames this year.

That was the goal, anyway.

That's what he spent the off-season preparing for.

But, like anything in this league, he had to earn it with a stellar exhibition campaign, first.

"The mindset doesn't change, but it does help with your confidence when you're put in a more offensive role," Bennett said. "I'm relied on to make plays and I know I'm capable of doing that, so I think I can definitely be more offensive, and that's what I'm going to try and be this year."

Last year, Bennett recorded 13 goals and 27 points, and a career-high 93 penalty minutes to go along with the second-most hits among Flames at 121.

 

Video: CGY@COL, Gm3: Bennett delivers big check on Cole

 

Those numbers, along with the hands and ability to play in all situations, though, are what make him an attractive option to play second-line minutes more regularly, in addition to the powerplay time he already receives.  

That was the case Friday as Bennett scored the Flames' opening goal in a 6-2 loss to the Oilers, driving the net and coolly depositing a juicy rebound left by the hard-charging Michael Stone, who fired from the opposite side.

Right spot. Right time.

"I thought our line was generating all night," Bennett said. "We were doing a pretty good job of cycling and working the puck down low in the offensive zone.

"Those two - they're really great players," he added of his linemates, Frolik and Mikael Backlund. "They do so many little things right that make it easy on me. They're good at controlling it and making good plays down low.

"And when they get in on the forecheck, I follow it up and hunt pucks down."

 

Video: COL@CGY, Gm2: Andersson nets Bennett's no-look pass

 

Bennett closed the night with a team-leading four shots and also drew a high-sticking penalty on former Flame Alex Chiasson late in the opening frame.

This, on the heels of the Monday's pre-season account-opener, where he picked up an assist with some work in the trenches, freeing the puck along the half wall, shedding a defender with a fair bit of force, and putting the puck on a platter for his nimble Czech 'mate.

"He's playing the right way," said head coach Bill Peters. "Sam's in the right spot, going to the net hard. It's good to see.

"He's had a real good opportunity and he's taking advantage of it."

Bennett has yet to eclipse the 18 goals or 37 points he achieved in his rookie campaign, but his game transformed dramatically since then - the on-the-job education giving him the tools to contribute in all facets, which he believes wasn't the case only four years ago.

Now, the role he's auditioning for is right there for the taking.

"Every game - even in the pre-season when they don't matter - still matters," Bennett said. "It's all about getting yourself to a place where you're feeling good, feeling ready for the season.

"Once you get up to speed - and I feel like I'm right there now - everything else falls into place."

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