The Calgary Flames don't have much by way of optimism heading into the 2014-15 season. The one thing fans might be able to get excited about is to see which of the team's young players can make the NHL roster, giving a glimpse of a hopefully brighter future.
After Sean Monahan performed well as a rookie last season, scoring 22 goals, all eyes now turn to the club's most recent first-round pick – Sam Bennett. The supremely skilled forward was selected fourth overall and had 91 points in the OHL last year for the Kingston Frontenacs.
Those kind of numbers suggest that Bennett dominated the junior ranks, but does that mean he'll make the NHL roster? General manager Brad Treliving gave a rather blunt answer to Mark Spector of Sportsnet.
Will Sam Bennett stick in Calgary? "I would be shocked," said GM Brad Treliving. Column on Flames GM up soon on Sportsnet.ca— Mark Spector (@SportsnetSpec) September 2, 2014
It makes sense, though. Expecting the Flames to make the playoffs next year seems unlikely. They already have a host of young players looking to get more NHL team this year as well. As exciting as it would be for fans to see Bennett regularly, it's not good business to burn a year off of his cap-friendly entry-level contract on what would amount to a lost year.
The club already did that with Monahan, so starting Bennett's clock on his ELC and also on his seven-year march to unrestricted free agency is not exactly an ideal situation.
It's an interesting annual debate when it comes to top prospects. The delicate balance of contract consciousness and overall player development is one every GM is going to have to navigate a few times over his career.
This is Treliving's first go as the top guy in an organization after years as an assistant GM with the Arizona Coyotes and it also represents a situation that involves a central player to whatever it is Calgary is building now. So this is a pretty big decision.
There's always the chance a prospect overwhelms the coaching staff in camp and makes it appear impossible to send him back down. As tempting as keeping him may be, the Flames will have to be overly cautious with their top prospect.
One of the pre-draft knocks on Bennett was his physical strength. Giving him more time to build some mass certainly won't hurt. Assuring he is as physically ready as his skills are would smooth out the transition for him. If that takes another year, so be it.
Prospect management will prove important for the Flames over the next several years as they look to resurrect the franchise after five straight seasons without the playoffs in Calgary. With Monahan graduated to the NHL, Bennett is the top prospect in the system, making him one of the team's most precious assets and he should be handled with extreme care as a result.