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Steinberg's Slant: No Need To Rush Bennett

by Pat Steinberg / Calgary Flames

The Calgary Flames have an interesting decision to make in the very near future.

With Sam Bennett, the fourth overall selection in the 2014 NHL Draft, getting close to being cleared for game action, the Flames are going to need to decide the best course of action for their top prospect. Calgary has a few options open to them, but I lean towards the most conservative -- returning him to the Kingston Frontenacs of the Ontario Hockey League.

The Flames could go a few other ways, though.

Because Bennett has yet to play this year in his recovery from shoulder surgery, they still have a nine game window to play him without burning the first year of his entry-level contract (ELC). They could play him for one, six, or all nine games before having to make a decision and also have the option of sending him to the Adirondack Flames of the AHL on a conditioning stint.

Even though I think sending him back to the OHL is the best way to go, I understand the temptation to do otherwise.

Bennett is one of the most promising young players Calgary has ever had, and they didn’t get a chance to give him a regular season tryout in October. I understand even more why a Flames fan would be all over this, because who doesn’t want a glimpse of the future? I believe, however, a return to Kingston is best for everyone involved.

First and foremost, you have to take Bennett’s situation into account when you talk about this. He’s coming off major shoulder surgery that kept him off skates for months, which can lead to an adjustment period when returning to active duty. On top of that, he hasn’t played a game since a preseason contest against the Winnipeg Jets on Oct. 2nd.

In reality, Bennett hasn’t played a meaningful regular season game in almost a year. Should he be making his NHL debut after such a long layoff while coming back from major surgery? I lean towards no, especially when the option to send him to junior for the rest of the season is there for you.

The Flames also have to ask themselves if a scenario like that makes sense for them right now, too.

Even if your answer is yes to the prior question, take into consideration where Calgary stands in the Western Conference. They’re in a tenuous playoff spot at best with every game meaning so much. I would contend a tooth-and-nail playoff race is not the time to be getting a young player up to speed, regardless of who that player is.

Further to that point, where would Bennett fit? With Mikael Backlund, Sean Monahan, Matt Stajan, Josh Jooris, Markus Granlund, and Joe Colborne all capable of playing centre on the team right now, I’m not sure there’s a natural spot for Bennett to enter the lineup as it looks right now. I guess you could play him at wing or make a spot for him otherwise, but that seems like a lot of juggling, especially at a time when continuity is extremely important.

Don’t get me wrong; part of me would love to see Bennett in a Flames jersey this season. I think he’s going to be a bona fide superstar in this league, and in the very near future, too. I would be surprised if he’s not on the opening day roster come October, and so getting a chance to see him earlier is tantalizing. That’s why I totally understand why a hardcore fan might definitely want to see this happen.

But, when I think about it objectively, it just seems more prudent to do the least exciting thing.

Yeah, Bennett retuning to Kingston isn’t as fun a story, but it could very well be best for his development. In the end, with this player and any other player, that’s what really matters in the long run.

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