From now until the start of training camp on Sept. 22, Florida Hockey Now will profile players who will play a key role for the 2022-23 Florida Panthers.
Today’s Player: Sam Bennett
What Happened Last Year: In his first full year with the Panthers, Sam Bennett hit career-highs in goals (28), assists (21) and points (51).
Bennett doubled his season totals from every year of his career since his first full season of the year where he put up 18 goals, 18 assists and 36 points in 77 games. His trade from Calgary to Florida at the 2021 Trade Deadline seemed like a career-revival of sorts.
When Sasha Barkov missed 13 of 14 games with separate injuries in November and December, Bennett was called upon to take over the top-line role. He helped the team stay afloat without its captain, helping them to a 8-5-1 record in his absence.
What to Look For at Camp: Bennett spent a large majority of the season alongside Jonathan Huberdeau and Anthony Duclair last season. That will not be the case going into 2022-23.
Huberdeau is gone after being traded for Matthew Tkachuk and Duclair is set to miss at least the first half of the season with a torn Achilles. This leaves Bennett without either of his linemates from last season.
Bennett had played with Tkachuk when they were in Calgary and could rekindle that chemistry in Florida. That is only if Paul Maurice decides to split up Barkov and Tkachuk like past Panthers coaches did with Barkov and Huberdeau.
If that is not the case, there is a chance that Bennett will have a significant downgrade in talent on his wing. Huberdeau’s elite playmaking being replaced by the middling offensive ability of the field of Colin White, Rudolfs Balcers or Nick Cousins could see Bennett’s production take a dip.
— NHL (@NHL) January 28, 2022
Questions To Be Answered This Season: With Huberdeau gone, the main thing to look at is whether or not Bennett can keep up his production without him.
Bennett scores a lot of his goals near the front of the net and Huberdeau’s passing ability was key in getting him the puck. Depending on how Maurice’s lineup looks, he may get fewer scoring opportunities and see a drop-off in production.
The quick emergence of Anton Lundell also begs the question of how long Bennett can hold on to that No. 2 center slot. If Lundelll takes a bigger jump in his sophomore year, Bennett may find himself on the third line playing more of a checking role rather than the offensive role he had last season.
It is a role he can easily thrive in and adjust to, but his $4.25 million price tag may be too much for Florida to pay for said role for the next three seasons. It should be interesting to see if they decide to flip Bennett to help their weakened blue line and give Cousins or White the nod as the third line center at some point.
In Their Words: “I can’t even describe how much I enjoy playing hockey here,” Bennett said after hitting the 20-goal mark for the first time in his career.
“Being around this team and the city and playing in this building, it’s all great right now. I’m sure there’s gone be times where it gets tough, but right now, I’m enjoying it, I’m having fun, and I’m just trying to ride the wave right now. I’ve enjoyed every minute of my change of scenery for sure.”
Overall Outlook: His outlook for next season depends heavily on how Maurice decides to use him. If he gives him Tkachuk and Sam Reinhart as linemates, he could see a similar level of production next season.
Both of those guys are more than capable at setting up Bennett near the front of the net and letting him do what he does best: Scoring in close.
If he ends up on a line with Balcers and White — or some combination of Florida’s free-agent pickups from this offseason — things may be a bit trickier. Neither are quality playmakers that Bennett had the luxury of playing with last year.