CALGARY, AB -- The Calgary Flames decided Sam Bennett’s development is best served in Kingston.
The Flames announced Saturday that Bennett, Calgary’s top pick (No. 4) in the 2014 NHL Draft would be best served playing for the Kingston Frontenacs of the Ontario Hockey League for the duration of the season. The 18-year-old returns to Kingston where he played the last two seasons, suiting up in 117 games for the Frontenacs and amassing 131 points (54G, 77A) and 205 penalty minutes.
“Quite frankly, at the end of the day we thought there was only one smart decision to be made and that's getting him back to junior,” Flames general manager Brad Treliving said. “Putting him into NHL games at the end of February for a young kid who has not played a game since preseason, we just felt this is the only move to make and the wisest choice for a player who will be a very big part of this team for a lot of years moving forward.
“You take all the emotion out of it and [think about] what makes sense, what's smart and what is the best thing for the player. He's going to go back to Kingston and play a ton, in all situations. The team is in a playoff push. It just made sense. He's healthy, he's ready to play and this is the best place for him to go.
“Quite frankly, it was an easy decision. And when I say that, it was hard in the sense that you've got a kid who, he would chew off my arm to play a game. That's why the parent sometimes has to tell the kid to be in at a certain time and you hope that you have the right and correct knowledge. “Could he have played? Yeah, I think he could have played. It's just to us, it didn't make sense.”
Bennett understood the decision.
"Obviously it's not my first choice but they have thought long and hard about this and they have a lot of experience with this kind of situation so I respect the decision and I'm excited to finally get a chance to play again wherever that is,” Bennett said.
"We talked for a while and I think went really well. He explained that I'm going to get my shot but after major surgery jumping into the season so late is pretty tough. I think ultimately this is the best decision for myself."
According to Treliving, Bennett took the news in stride -- all things considered.
"He didn't jump over the desk and hug me and say thank you very much,” Treliving said. “From the day we drafted him he's had one singular focus and that's to be here in Calgary. That's great, it's one of the aspects you love about this kid. The really important thing is the why. You try to outline it with these guys. At the end he's an 18-year-old kid who wants desperately to be here, he's been around this team for the better part of the year and quite frankly he thinks he can help us -- and he may be right.
“As I told him, one day you're going to be older and wiser and make decisions that you think are in the best interest of people that are younger than you."
Bennett has been sidelined for over four months after undergoing surgery in October to repair a torn labrum in his left shoulder. He initially sustained the injury playing in Kingston last season and played through both the YoungStars tournament in Penticton in September as well as three preseason NHL games for the Flames before being shut down.
He’s rehabbed the injury exclusively in Calgary under the watch of the Flames.
Bennett, a native of Holland Landing, Ont. returned to the ice for solo skates on Jan. 7, and joined teammates for the first time on Feb. 2. He was cleared for full contact last Saturday -- exactly four months from his surgery date.
Calgary had the option of assigning him to the Adirondack Flames of the American Hockey League on a conditioning stint, keep him on the Flames roster, or return him to the junior ranks.
His next step, Calgary declared, will come with Kingston.
"I'm so excited,” Bennett said. “I've been waiting a long time to play a game and it's going to be a lot of fun, for sure.
"I'm feeling good, I feel strong and I feel confident. I'm just really excited to get my first game.
"I was talking to the coach a little bit and [Doug Gilmour] as well. I told a couple of players and they're pretty excited. I will be fun to be back there."
The Frontenacs are seventh in the OHL’s Eastern Conference standings with 50 points heading into action Saturday. Kingston sits three points up with three games at hand on the ninth-place Mississauga Steelheads.
Bennett is eligible to return to either Calgary or Adirondack at the conclusion of his junior season.
"We will deal with that then at that point,” Treliving said. “The other part of this is he's going back to Kingston and he's got to be all-in there. [He needs] to get his game up and going. He needs to focus on Kingston and not what happens after his season is done. Usually if you're worried about something other than what you should be focused on you're not putting all your energies in one spot. He's excited to get back, he's a hockey player and he wants to get back. He's excited to get back on the ice."
Still, the option is an enticing one to Bennett, who has yet to play his first professional game.
"That is an option and that's definitely something that I'm going to look forward to,” Bennett said. “I guess we'll have to wait until that time comes but it's definitely an option that I would be excited for."