Sam Bennett’s 18th birthday falls exactly a week before the first round of the 2014 NHL Draft when he, in all likelihood, will be a top five pick, bringing him a step closer to fulfilling his dream of playing in the National Hockey League.
Happy birthday, indeed.
Bennett, a center who hails from Holland Landing, Ontario, was the NHL Central Scouting Service’s top-ranked North American skater on both their midterm and final rankings. He ranked ninth in the OHL with 91 points (36g, 55a) in 57 games, leading his Kingston Frontenacs in points, goals, assists, plus/minus (plus-34) and power-play goals (10).
From November 8 through January 26, Bennett assembled a league-best 25-game scoring streak in which he totaled 46 points, including 17 goals.
|HOMETOWN: HOLLAND LANDING, ONTARIO |
|HEIGHT: 6'0" |
|WEIGHT: 178 |
|BIRTHDAY: JUNE 20, 1996 (AGE 17) |
“He’s very quick and very shifty. He’s got a great shot,” said Tony MacDonald, the Canes head of amateur scouting. “He battles hard on the wall and wins a lot of battles for the puck.”
Bennett, named the Canadian Hockey League’s top prospect of the year, has said what sets him apart from other prospects is his unmatched compete level. MacDonald agrees.
“He’s probably the grittiest competitor in the Draft and probably the most competitive guy in the Draft,” he said. “He’s very intense.”
Even as a teenager, Bennett has drawn comparisons to his Kingston general manager Doug Gilmour, who recorded 450 goals and 964 assists (1,414 points) in a Hall of Fame career that spanned 1,474 games over 20 years. Gilmour, a player who was relatively small in stature but earned the nickname “Killer” for his competitive on-ice edge, wore No. 93 in the NHL; with Gilmour’s blessing, Bennett dons the same number for the Frontenacs.
“[Bennett] is just a guy that loves to compete. He’s a tough guy to play against,” MacDonald said. “When you meet him and talk to him in person, he’s exactly what you’d expect him to be after watching him play.”
Measuring in at 6 feet tall and 178 pounds, Bennett is a bit heftier than Gilmour was as a teenager, but he plays with that same fiery on-ice demeanor. Bennett, who said his upper-body strength is something he’s looking to improve, registered 87 penalty minutes in 2012-13 and 118 penalty minutes last season, both ranking second on his team.
“He’s such a determined, gritty guy who never takes a shift off,” MacDonald said.
Even as the No. 1 ranked North American skater, Bennett isn’t the consensus No. 1 pick come June 27. He will, of course, be in the conversation with perhaps as many as four other prospects.
And if he somehow slipped out of the top five, the Canes would likely be more than happy to snag him if given the chance.