SUNRISE, Fla. - Sam Bennett admits he's not an exceptional musician by any means.
On a Zoom teleconference with local media on Tuesday, the grizzled center was asked about a pair of sleek acoustic guitars hanging on the wall behind him. Taking a quick peek over his shoulder, he insisted they were "more for show," but added that he does like to whip out "Wonderwall" by Oasis on occasion.
"Yeah, I play a little bit," he chuckled.
While he won't be booking any gigs at Revolution Live or Culture Room in downtown Fort Lauderdale anytime soon, Bennett is confident that he and his teammates will be making beautiful music on the ice during the upcoming season after he inked a new four-year contract on Monday to remain in South Florida.
"I loved my time in Florida," said Bennett, who joined the team at the trade deadline in February. "I loved the opportunity I got there. I loved my teammates there. For me, four years is a no-brainer. I'm so happy to get that deal done and be locked in now. It's a great team we have there. I'm really excited."
From the moment he arrived to the Panthers, Bennett said he felt like a new man.
After spending his entire career with the Flames, the former fourth-overall pick was shipped to the Sunshine State a few hours before the NHL Trade Deadline this past season in exchange for a second-round pick in 2021 and the rights to forward prospect Emil Heineman, a second-round pick in 2020.
Given a much bigger role with the Panthers than he'd recently been receiving in Calgary, the 25-year-old immediately flourished under head coach Joel Quenneville while receiving both increased responsibility and ice time. And for a team pushing toward the playoffs, his hard-nosed style was a welcome addition.
Doing a little bit of everything on the second line, Bennett recorded 15 points (six goals, nine assists) in 10 games after the trade to close out the regular season. Making history in the process, those 15 points were the most ever by a player in their first 10 games with the Panthers, moving him past Pavel Bure.
In 38 games before being dealt by the Flames, he'd amassed just 12 points (four goals, eight assists).
"I've never felt so comfortable in my life playing hockey," Bennett said. "It's sometimes odd to go to a new team and feel that comfortable right away, but just everything was clicking. Right away, I got the opportunity. The coaching staff believed in me, and I found some great chemistry with the players."
That chemistry was particularly evident in the possession game. With Jonathan Huberdeau on his left and either Anthony Duclair or Owen Tippett on his right, Bennett posted a team-high 65.20 CF% at 5-on-5 in Florida, with the team leading 78-34 in scoring chances and 10-1 in goals when he was on the ice.
Averaging 18:04 of ice time per contest -- a sharp increase from the 13:28 that he'd been averaging with the Flames -- Bennett also paced the club's forward in shots (39) and hits (29) to close out the campaign.
"Sam's impact on our club this past season was seen immediately, injecting physicality, skill and energy into our lineup," Panthers General Manager Bill Zito said in a release. "We are thrilled to have him in our Panthers lineup and look forward to what he can bring to our offense in the upcoming 2021-22 season."
Suiting up in five games during the playoffs, Bennett tallied five points (one goal, four assists), 16 hits and seven blocked shots against the Lightning. Showing off his consistency on offense, he posted at least one point in 13 of the 15 games he competed in with the Panthers between the regular season and playoffs.
With his sights set on deeper playoff run in 2021-22, Bennett said he expects that he'll be centering Huberdeau once again when the puck drops in October. That said, he noted that it will likely "switch throughout the year" as Quenneville will have many combinations to play with given Florida's depth.
Asked about his chemistry with Huberdeau, Bennett said it's just as strong off the ice as it is on it. That fact was certainly evident shortly after the news broke of his signing when Huberdeau shared the video announcing the deal on his Instagram with "Congrats babyyy!! Well deserved!!" written over the post.
Not long after the season ended, Bennett went on a fishing trip with Huberdeau and Aaron Ekblad.
"It just kind of happened naturally," Bennett said of the budding friendship with Huberdeau. "We spent a lot of time together off the ice. It's funny how sometimes the on-ice chemistry can lead to off-ice chemistry as well. He's definitely one of my closest buddies on the team now, for sure."
Looking at the bigger picture, Bennett said he's also excited to be a part of what's being built in Florida.
Under the expert direction of Zito, the Panthers have quickly built one of the most impressive young cores in the league. In addition to Bennett, the team boasts numerous players either just entering or right in the thick of the prime years of their careers, a group that includes the likes of Aleksander Barkov, Anthony Duclair, Carter Verhaeghe, MacKenzie Weegar, Ekblad and Huberdeau, among several others.
Throw in the recent addition of Sam Reinhart, and Bennett can't wait for the season to get underway.
"It's exciting to have so many young guys with so much experience," Bennett said. "That's big in this league, especially when it comes to playoff hockey. The core group of this team is definitely all around the same age and it's looking like we've got a lot of years ahead of us to make something happen."