CALGARY - The Scotiabank Saddledome has turned out to be a pretty exciting workout facility for injured prospect Sam Bennett, who is recovering from shoulder surgery.
The injury-riddled Flames, arguably the NHL's biggest surprise this season at 17-8-2, sit one point back of the Anaheim Ducks and Vancouver Canucks for the lead in the Western Conference entering Friday's games.
"It's amazing being part of a rebuild and how much success we've been having," said Bennett, selected fourth overall by Calgary in this year's draft. "It's been awesome just being in the room. Everyone is so happy and in such good moods. It's just great to see how well not only the young guys, but how everyone is playing."
Bennett, 18, underwent surgery on Oct. 14 to repair a torn labrum in his left shoulder. Meeting with the media for the first time Friday since the operation, he said he's pleased with his recovery.
"They anchored it back onto the bone. It all went really well and they had no issue," Bennett said. "I'm really happy with the progress so far. I've gone a solid month now of solid rehab. I'm starting to do some strength work now too and I haven't had any issues so it's all positive."
Bennett spent the past month in Calgary where a typical day consists of arriving at the rink, attending the team meeting, then going for a workout as the players get ready for practice. In the gym, he works on his conditioning and his lifting with Flames strength and conditioning coach Ryan van Asten.
Once that's complete, it's off to see the trainers for some physical therapy.
"The goal is to be skating come the New Year and from there, keep progressing and if I have no issues skating, then we're going to keep ramping it up," said Bennett.
Bennett, a native of Holland Landing, Ont., hopes to get in some games before the end of this season. He said he's learned a lot from being around the Flames for the past four weeks.
"I'm a pretty hard-working guy but just coming here and seeing the amount of work that not only I have to put in but the guys that are playing put in, it's pretty impressive and you definitely appreciate it more when you're here," said Bennett.
Coach Bob Hartley said the Flames are trying to do everything they can to make something positive out of what was a negative situation.
"A day like today is a great day at school for Sam Bennett," said Hartley. "He sees the (Mark) Giordanos and company in the gym, preparing for tomorrow. Even though most of those guys didn't skate, it was a work day, it was not a day off."
You get the sense that if Hartley was assigning grades, Bennett's marks so far would be pretty darn good.
"This kid is going to be a special one. He's eager. If we would listen to him, not only would he be skating with us, he'd be playing right now. He's champing at the bit to the point where he's almost annoying," Hartley said with a laugh.
With Mason Raymond (shoulder), Matt Stajan (knee), Joe Colborne (wrist) and Mikael Backlund (abdomen) all out with injuries, it has opened up playing time and Calgary's rookies have stepped in and played significant roles.
With Johnny Gaudreau (4-16-20) second in rookie points, unheralded Josh Jooris (8-4-12) tied for third in rookie goals and Markus Granlund (3-6-9) in the top 15 in rookie scoring, it bodes well for the future.
"It's awesome with some of the big-name guys we have out right now," said Gaudreau. "A lot of younger guys including myself have stepped in and I think we've done a pretty good job so far. We're still winning games with us younger guys in the lineup. We're helping contribute offensively and defensively and it's just great to see us younger guys help the team out here."
That's a future that will inevitably include Bennett, the Flames' highest draft pick in team history.
"(Bennett) being here is going to be a good experience for him," said sophomore centre Sean Monahan, who's second on the team with 10 goals. "He's going to be learning a lot just by being around the dressing room."
Monahan played against Bennett in junior and knows the calibre of player the Flames have on their hands.
"Obviously, we've seen him in the pre-season and what he can do," he said. He's going to get confidence being here and knowing what some of the young guys are doing and he's going to be a great player for us.
"It's going to be a bright future and it's going to be a good team here for a long time."
Notes: The Flames will kick off a four-game Eastern trip on Tuesday night in Toronto. They'll bring Bennett along with them and he'll stay at home in nearby Holland Landing until early January when he meets again with his surgeon. After that appointment, he'll make his way back to Calgary.