The reception for Sam Bennett in his return to Alberta could have gone either way.
Yes, he was a playoff hero for the Calgary Flames with 10 goals and 14 points in 25 postseason games, and there was a general feeling the organization was squandering some of his talent, but he also could qualify as a bust. The forward was, after all, the No. 4 pick in the 2014 NHL Entry Draft and he never scored more than 18 goals in a season before the Flames traded him to the Florida Panthers ahead of the trade deadline last year.
Yet in Calgary, it felt like everyone was excited to see Bennett and, in particular, celebrate how well he has been playing since he got to Sunrise.
“I’ve ran into so many people that I’ve known, or even people that I don’t know that know me, and they’ve all said they’re really happy for me and follow me pretty closely,” Bennett said. “It’s pretty cool to see how much support I still have in this city.”
Bennett has now been with the Panthers for nearly a year and he has quickly become a fan favorite in South Florida. With 15 goals in 29 games this year and 21 in 39 games since he joined the Panthers, Bennett has never been playing better and is finally starting to live up to some of the expectations that come with being a top-five pick. As he returned to the Scotiabank Saddledome on Tuesday for the first time since the trade, he was tied for second on the team with 15 goals and his four game-winning goals were eighth most in the NHL.
The trade, which sent a prospect and a second-round pick back to the Flames, has been a home run for Stanley Cup-contending Florida.
For Calgary, the deal is more complicated. The Flames are currently just outside playoff position and Bennett would certainly help, but he was also a restricted free agent in the offseason and there was no guarantee Calgary would’ve kept him, especially with the 2021 NHL Expansion Draft looming. The Flames were able to land some quality assets in exchange for an underachieving player.
The problem for Calgary is Bennett stopped underachieving once he got out of Canada.
Still, Bennett has good memories of his time with the Flames and Calgary has good memories of him, particularly the 2015 Stanley Cup playoffs when Bennett, then 18, had played only one game in the regular season and then scored three times in the Cup playoffs.
“It was exciting, definitely a little different going into the away dressing room for the first time, but it’s a cool feeling,” said Bennett, who signed a four-year, $17.6 million extension in the offseason. “I had a lot of great memories here in this building and I was here for a long time, so it’s pretty cool to be back here again.”
Marchment returns after COVID absence
Injuries and a bout with COVID-19 have made this a rocky season for Mason Marchment, but the Panthers hope the in-and-out nature of the left wing’s season is in the past.
Marchment is fully healthy after testing positive for the coronavirus earlier this month and returned to Florida’s lineup Tuesday for the first time since New Year’s Day. The 26-year-old winger, who became an unlikely fourth-line fixture as a rookie last season, has played in only 14 games this season.
While the Panthers’ new-look fourth-line has been one of the best in the NHL this season, Marchment still provides important depth for Florida and interim coach Andrew Brunette trusts him in big spots.
Marchment entered Tuesday with two goals and eight assists this season, and had a goal and two assists in three games between the league’s COVID pause and his own case of the virus. Before he returned to action after the break last month, Marchment had missed nearly two months with an upper-body injury.
“He played [three] real good games after the break,” Brunette said. “We’re expecting him to come in—he looked really good in practice today and the end of last week, so we’re expecting the same old Marchy.”