Given that Calgary Flames head coach Bill Peters has said he’s more of a pair guy than a line guy, let’s look at Sam Bennett and Mark Jankowski as a potential 3rd pair.
Calgary Flames fans want to believe that young guns Sam Bennett and Mark Jankowski can blossom into high-contributing forwards that will add the depth scoring this roster desperately needs. Both have had their moments of promise, even accomplishing what some the Flames’ star players haven’t: both have recorded four-goal games.
So while we’re on the subject of highs and lows, let’s weigh the pros and cons of a 93-77 pair on the third line.
They both have something to prove.
There’s no doubt about it: The Flames have several good prospects coming down the pipeline. And while Bennett and Jankowski have more or less secured their roster spots, I have a feeling everyone on this team will need to earn their ice time under Bill Peters, especially the young guys.
Janko and Bennett are not oblivious to their situation. The reason they entered this league faster than other Flames prospects their age is because they showed promise. To say they have a “chip on their shoulder” after last season might be a little drastic, but expect them both to be looking to prove something next season. They need to be better in 2018-19 to prove they’re key pieces of this team’s future.
Bennett in particular. He’s entering the last year of a fairly cheap 2-year bridge contract. And after underperforming last season, now is his chance to prove how much he’s worth.
One of Calgary’s RW won’t be shackled to dead weight.
Calgary’s situation on the right wing is, shall we say, not a reason for optimism. On paper, the best option on the team is a streaky Michael Ferland, who is, on paper, not even a right wing. After that, you need to go nine roster spots deep to find the next-highest right winger in terms of PPG, Michael Frolik. (I’m excluding Chris Stewart and Spencer Foo here because they barely played). That’s right below TJ Brodie.
It’s safe to say that all of Calgary’s right-wingers who played 20 games or more last season — Brouwer, Hathaway, Frolik, Versteeg, and yes, even Ferland — need to be better in 2018-19, and they know it. If Peters can somehow find a player among those names who has good chemistry with Bennett and Janko (that’s a big if), expect that player to improve drastically. Even just ditching a ball and chain like Lazar or Stajan would be an improvement, by default, for some of the guys listed.
And maybe the right player to round out this line isn’t even on that list. Spencer Foo, anyone?
Sam Bennett plays better on LW.
Is there anything more to be said here?
Both are finishers accustomed to playing centre.
This may be a gross overgeneralization, but let’s look at forwards in two categories: playmakers and play finishers.
Playmakers have a good margin more assists than goals. Play finishers are the ones who have a decent SH% and who get just as many, if not more, goals than helpers. A well-rounded forward line should have both.
Jankowski and Bennett are the latter. Jankowski more so. He had a top-3 SH% on the team, behind only Sean Monahan and Ferland, and right above Matthew Tkachuk. He also had more than twice as many goals as apples.
Even though Bennett is a little more 50-50 when it comes to goals and assists, and his SH% was well below Janko’s (still top 10 on the team), I would still put him in this category. When he’s playing his best hockey it’s clear that he’s a goal scorer first and a playmaker second.
This raises the question, who would be their playmaker? Would they need to find somebody to fill that role, or could one of them take it on themselves? If they both have shooting as their first instinct, they may need a playmaking linemate who can set them up for success.
That sound you hear is the statisticians reading this and pulling their hair out. Once again, I know this is doesn’t exactly qualify as advanced stats. Just an old school hockey observation, and one that raises important questions.
What about leadership?
It’s a question worth asking when you assemble a line entirely out of young players. Where will the leadership come from? Who will take responsibility for the line’s performance, and step up when the going gets tough?
Sam Bennett plays his best hockey when he’s surrounded by people more skilled than him. During his brief stints on the top line, Johnny Gaudreau made him look good. I hate to say it, but at least for now, it looks like he prefers to be carried rather than carry a line. He hasn’t proven that he can handle that level of responsibility yet, or even that he is comfortable playing alongside forwards that are less skilled than he is. Hopefully, that comfort will come with age.
And asking Jankowski to be the leader in his sophomore season is a gamble at best. We simply haven’t seen enough of him yet.
Could they be paired with a veteran winger, like Versteeg or perhaps Troy “Mr. Leadership” Brouwer? Should they? Ah, the uncertainty!
Let’s take a moment of silence and remember the words of former head coach Glen Gulutzan:
"“You gotta ask yourself, which team are you? I thought a year ago we probably exceeded some expectations. I thought this year we were under expectations for sure.” – Glen Gulutzan"
The nice thing about this quote is that it can also be applied to players. The results of a Bennett-Jankowski experiment will depend entirely on which “version” of those players we are going to see next season. Are you the one that couldn’t get a point for ten games or more? Or are you the one who had enough confidence to score four goals in a single game?
There are very few things Flames fans can rely on these days. Johnny and Mony will be great if they can stay healthy. We can breathe easy when Mark Giordano and Dougie Hamilton are on the ice. Backlund will be a good shutdown centre and Tkachuk will be simultaneously scrappy and talented. And that’s it.
Wouldn’t it be nice if we could add Jankowski and Bennett to that list?
The uncertainty is the true killer. We simply don’t know what we will see from these two and that makes it hard to be optimistic. When they’re on, they are on. When they’re not, it looks like the team has no depth at all.
I think this pairing deserves a 10-15 game trial, with a rotation of RWs until we find the correct fit.
With my luck, Treliving will make a trade that renders this article obsolete.