TORONTO, ON - Sam Bennett is a consensus top-five pick in the upcoming 2014 NHL Draft. He is also one of the 119 players in Toronto this week for the NHL Scouting Combine where he will meet with scouts and management teams from around the league, trying to make an impression.
“It’s been a lot of fun,” Bennett said. “When I came here I didn’t know what to expect. I’ve met with a lot of cool people, I’ve met a lot of cool general managers and scouts and it’s really interesting to hear what they have to say about me and the draft this year.”
The centre has earned a reputation for being a very competitive young man and passionate player. He has also been described as a sandpaper forward who plays with grit. That makes up for his perceived lack of size as he plays the game bigger than his 6’ 0.25’’ frame.
“It’s been the way I’ve played all my life,” he said. “My dad was a big Doug Gilmour fan growing up and he’s the one who really taught me how to play when I was little and I guess he naturally taught me to play like him. I guess that’s just the way that I’ve played all my life and it’s how I love to play.”
With his dad teaching him to play like Gilmour, it is only fitting that Bennett would eventually play for the aforementioned former NHL star. Gilmour is the general manager of the Kingston Frontenacs, Bennett’s OHL team. Gilmour played over 1,400 NHL games and earned his own reputation for being ‘fearless’ on the ice.
“Doug has been awesome for me,” Bennett said. “He’s a guy I can go talk to off the ice and on the ice and if I ever have a problem with anything, I can go talk to him. He’s definitely been a huge help for me and it’s pretty cool when I can talk to Doug Gilmour and have him give me advice.”
When Edmonton Oilers Head Coach Dallas Eakins spoke at the Combine on Friday he described what he is looking for out of players in the interviews.
“I like to ask them if they believe they’re drivers in the game, if they’re driving the bus,” Eakins said. “There’s a lot of good players in the NHL who aren’t drivers. They’re excellent players but we need drivers on the team.”
Those traits seem to fall in line with what the Frontenacs forward could eventually bring to an NHL club. Bennett says he had a long meeting with the Edmonton Oilers at the Combine and it went very well.
“It went really well,” he said. “I was pretty happy leaving the room and it was definitely really cool to meet all of the guys in the Edmonton room and they had a lot of great things to say about me and it was definitely really interesting talking to them.”
Knowing that the Oilers may be looking for a centre and that their head coach and general manager have both said they are looking for drivers and players who compete at a high level may have benefitted Bennett well as he went into his meeting with the team. Bennett says that type of information doesn’t really change the way he goes about his interviews. There is no tailoring his answers to suit each team.
“I wouldn’t say I do that too much,” he said. “I’m a guy who just goes into interviews and I just try to be myself. I answer all of the questions honestly and I just act natural. If they like me they like me and if they don’t they don’t so I just try to be myself in the interviews.”
A point stressed by the Oilers brass this season was getting their players to come into the games with more of a defence-first mentality. While Bennett has a good offensive touch (91 points in 57 games this season), he takes great pride in his play away from the puck.
“The player that I really style my game after is (Chicago’s) Jonathan Toews,” Bennett said. “He’s a guy that not only can produce offence, he looks after his own end of the ice. That’s something I’ve taken a lot of pride in. I don’t want to be a one dimensional hockey player. I do definitely look after my own end as well as the offensive zone.”
Bennett is undoubtedly in the conversation for the Oilers, who pick third overall in the first round. He is Central Scouting’s consensus top prospect. While the Oilers will have done their research on Bennett, like they have with many other prospects, the young centre has done just a little reconnaissance on one of his few potential landing spots.
“I don’t really know too much,” he said. “I know that they’ve got a young core, that they’ve got a lot of really young and skilled players and I definitely think it would be really exciting and it would be really cool to play in Edmonton.”
Bennett has no qualms about the pressures of playing in a Canadian market, which is another question Eakins and the Oilers have asked the top prospects. He also says he’s heard a city like Edmonton is one he could get behind.
“I’ve heard it’s a nice place to live.I actually know some people that used to live in Edmonton and they loved it and I think they’re hoping that I go there. I haven’t actually been there but I’ve heard a lot of great things.”