NHL on NBCSN: Sam Bennett hits ground running with Panthers


NBCSN’s coverage of the 2020-21 NHL season continues with Thursday’s matchup between the Chicago Blackhawks and Florida Panthers. Blackhawks-Panthers coverage begins at 7:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

Through a mixture of luck, linemates, and other circumstances, some 2021 NHL Trade Deadline additions prosper, while others flounder.

With a former Hart Trophy winner like Taylor Hall, we probably should have seen it coming. Now, many might say that, as the fourth pick of the 2014 NHL Draft, we shouldn’t be shocked by Sam Bennett‘s scalding-hot start with the Florida Panthers. But, yeah, it’s a little stunning to see.

(The Panthers, Blackhawks, and plenty of NHL teams know from experience that draft pedigree doesn’t always guarantee instant results, with or without a “change of scenery.”)

After Panthers trade, Sam Bennett is red-hot — and lucky

In 38 games with the Flames in 2020-21, Sam Bennett only scored 12 points. Meanwhile, in seven games with the Panthers following that trade, Bennett’s already matched his goal total (four in both Calgary and Florida), and isn’t far from scoring as many points (10 with Panthers; 12 with Flames).

Heck, Bennett’s brings the spirit of that Wyatt Earp Flames playoff mustache from the Flames to the Panthers, considering he’s already been whistled for a matching 19 penalty minutes in both spots.

Bennett playoffs with Flames before Panthers trade
(Photo by Dave Sandford/NHLI via Getty Images)

Bennett accrued most of those penalty minutes via this fight:


When you see a player who’s never scored 20 goals (career-high: 18) or 40 points (career-high: 36), scoring more than a point-per-game (including a goal every two games), it’s fair to be suspicious.

No doubt about it, Bennett’s been lucky. Bennett’s scored his four goals on 24 shots on goal for a 16.7 shooting percentage. His career average is (a very average) 10.1, and he’s last been in double-digits in 2018-19.

Really, those percentages aren’t even the most drastic. So far, the Panthers have a perfect 100% save percentage with Bennett on the ice at five-on-five (vs. an unlucky 85.5% with Calgary this season, and a career average of 90.6). On-ice shooting percentage, another marker of luck, is off the charts too (Bennett with Florida: 16.9%; career average: 7.3).

So, yeah, Bennett’s not going to be scoring at a pace of about 117 points over the long haul for the Panthers. That said, there are some other interesting trends to watch, and mysteries to solve as the 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs approach.

Golden opportunities

Beyond “puck luck,” the most fortunate elements of Sam Bennett’s Panthers renaissance have been a) his linemates and b) his ice time.

So far during his Panthers tenure, Bennett’s spent the vast majority of his even-strength ice time with Jonathan Huberdeau and Anthony Duclair. Naturally, Huberdeau is the sort of foil who will goose his linemates numbers — at least offensively. But Duclair’s an interesting colleague as a former third-round pick whose stock dropped before he found what could be a very nurturing biosphere with Florida.

Beyond those bounces, Sam Bennett’s getting reps with the Panthers that he simply never received with the Flames.

Just look at the raw numbers. With the Flames, his career average of time on ice was 14:08 per game, and it was down to 13:28 per contest this season. Through nine games with the Panthers, Sam Bennett’s averaged 18:04 TOI per game, and logged more than 20 minutes in three of his last five games.

What happens come playoff time?

If there’s a lingering question, it is: what happens when the Panthers get healthier?

At the moment, Patric Hornqvist and Mason Marchment are day-to-day for the Panthers, while Carter Verhaeghe looks week-to-week.

With 35 points in 42 games, Verhaeghe has been a revelation for the Panthers, justifying flattering Jonathan Marchessault comparisons.

While Verhaeghe looms as the most formidable challenge to Bennett’s Panthers position, Hornqvist seems to score the type of goals Bennett’s been racking up with the Panthers:

Even with Marchment, he carries some Bennett parallels, at least the Flames version, in that Marchment hasn’t scored much, but carries promising underlying numbers.

So, once all hands are on deck, it remains to be seen where Bennett falls. Maybe Bennett maintains a commanding, top-six position with the Panthers (i.e. feasting alongside one or more of Huberdeau and Aleksander Barkov), or maybe he falls somewhere lower in the lineup.

Panthers GM Bill Zito left things pretty open-ended regarding Bennett’s role right after trading for him, for one thing.

“He’s a guy who projects probably a little more on the wing than center and has had maybe a little more success there, but really can play across the spectrum in the lineup and up and down,” Zito said on April 13. “And we’ll just have to see how and where the coaches deploy him.”

Expecting Sam Bennett to match this early Panthers production would be unreasonable. But don’t blame Florida if they think they can get more out of him than the Flames did. After all, they’ve had a knack for unearthing some hidden gems lately.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Sharks goalie James Reimer declines to wear Pride jersey

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San Jose Sharks goalie James Reimer won’t take part in pregame warmups Saturday night, saying the team’s decision to wear Pride-themed jerseys in support of the LGBTQ community runs counter to his religious beliefs.

Reimer said in a statement Saturday that he made the decision based on his Christian beliefs, adding that he “always strived to treat everyone with respect” and that members of the LGBTQ community should be welcome in hockey.

“In this specific instance, I am choosing not to endorse something that is counter to my personal convictions, which are based on the Bible, the highest authority in life,” Reimer said.

Reimer is the second NHL player this season to refuse to take part in warmups with Pride-themed jerseys, with Philadelphia’s Ivan Provorov declining to in January. Reimer was not slated to start in Saturday night’s home game against the New York Islanders, which is Pride night.

Additionally, the New York Rangers opted not to wear Pride jerseys or use Pride stick tape as part of their night in January despite previously advertising that plan.

The Sharks said in a statement that they are proud to host Pride Night, saying the event reinforces the team’s commitment to inclusiveness.

“As we promote these standards, we also acknowledge and accept the rights of individuals to express themselves, including how or whether they choose to express their beliefs, regardless of the cause or topic,” the team said in a statement. “As an organization, we will not waver in our support of the LGBTQIA+ community and continue to encourage others to engage in active allyship.”

The You Can Play Project, which works to promote inclusiveness in sports, said the organization was disappointed in Reimer’s actions.

“Religion and respect are not in conflict with each other, and we are certainly disappointed when religion is used as a reason to not support our community,” the organization said. “Wearing pride jerseys, like any celebration jersey worn, is not about the personal feelings of an athlete; rather the communication from the team that a community is welcome in the arena and the sport.”

AP NHL: https://apnews.com/hub/nhl and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

Panarin, Shesterkin lead Rangers to 6-0 rout of Penguins

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NEW YORK (AP) Mika Zibanejad had a goal and two assists, Artemi Panarin scored twice and Igor Shesterkin made 33 saves as the New York Rangers routed Pittsburgh 6-0 on Saturday night for their second win over the Penguins in three days.

Vladimir Tarasenko, Chris Kreider and Jacob Trouba also scored for the surging Rangers, who have won nine of their last 11 home games and are 12-4-0 in their past 16 at Madison Square Garden.

Shesterkin won his fifth straight and posted his second shutout this season. He nimbly denied Pittsburgh forward Mikael Granland with a sprawling save five minutes into the third period to preserve the shutout, the 10th of his career. His other one this season was a 1-0 home win over Philadelphia on Nov. 1.

“When you put in hard and honest work, miracles happen,” Shesterkin said through a translator. ”We played wonderfully today – scored many, many goals. Honestly, I hope the fans loved it. We’re playing for them.”

The Penguins lost their third straight and trail the Rangers by 12 points for third place in the Metropolitan Division. Pittsburgh, still in wild-card position, is trying to reach the playoffs for the 17th straight time.

“Tonight was a humbling experience for all of us,” coach Mike Sullivan said. ”At this time of year, you have to have a short memory. We still have control of our destiny.”

Patrick Kane and defenseman K’Andre Miller also had two assists apiece as New York improved to 7-1-1 in its last nine home games against Pittsburgh. The Rangers are five points behind the second-place New Jersey Devils, who lost at Florida on Saturday.

“This was a big game for our goalie and our team,” Panarin said. “If you work at playing the right way, you have opportunities for goals.”

Since Dec. 5, when they turned around their season with a 6-4 comeback win at home over St. Louis, the Rangers are 29-9-5.

As he did on Thursday when the Rangers beat the Penguins 4-2, Zibanejad opened the scoring. He got his team-leading 36th goal at 5:10 of the first, beating Penguins goaltender Tristan Jarry. Trouba and Miller assisted.

Panarin made it 2-0 at 19:49 on the power play, whipping the puck past Jarry from the left circle off a pass from Adam Fox.

Tarasenko increased the lead at 3:54 of the second with his fifth goal since joining the Rangers in a trade with St. Louis on Feb. 9. Tarasenko has points in 10 of his first 18 games with the Rangers.

Kreider made it 4-0 at 6:43 with his 31st goal and third in two games against the Penguins. Kane and Vincent Trocheck assisted on Kreider’s 260th career goal, which moved the Rangers forward within two of Vic Hadfield for fifth place on the franchise list.

New York won Thursday when Kreider scored the go-ahead goal in the third and added an empty-netter.

After Casey DeSmith replaced Jarry in net following Kreider’s goal, Trouba beat the replacement with a sharp-angle shot at 8:39 for his eighth to increase the margin to 5-0. Trouba has points in six of his last eight games.

Panarin scored again at 16:38 of the second – his 22nd goal of the season – to make it 6-0, with assists to Kane and Filip Chytil.

“We’re building chemistry, building every day and every game,” Kane said.

Panarin has points in eight of his last 10 games and leads the Rangers with 77 points overall, while Kane has seven points in his last six games.

“It’s nice to see that many great players on your team,” added Panarin, whose first two NHL seasons were played alongside Kane with the Chicago Blackhawks. “We’re happy tonight.”

Zibanejad assisted on goals by Tarasenko and Trouba and has 25 points – including 14 goals – over his last 20 games.

“It was just one of those nights when the puck goes in for us,” Zibanejad said. “And obviously Igor gives us a boost making all those saves.”

NOTES: The Penguins were missing defenseman Jeff Petry after he was hit with an unpenalized elbow from Rangers forward Tyler Motte on Thursday. … Pittsburgh also scratched defenseman Jan Rutta and forward Dalton Heinen and played defenseman Mark Friedman for the first time since Feb. 11. … The Rangers were without injured defenseman Ryan Lindgren for the 10th straight game.


Penguins: Host the Ottawa Senators on Monday.

Rangers: Host the Nashville Predators on Sunday night.

AP NHL: https://apnews.com/hub/NHL and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

Coyotes sign Shane Doan’s son to entry-level contract

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TEMPE, Ariz. — Josh Doan is following his father’s footsteps into professional hockey.

The Arizona Coyotes signed the 21-year-old forward to a three-year entry-level contract, beginning with the 2023-24 NHL season. He will report to the Tucson Roadrunners of the AHL and play his first game against the Calgary Wranglers.

Doan’s father, Shane, played 21 seasons with the franchise, many of those as captain, and followed it from Winnipeg to the desert in 1996. Shane Doan now serves as Arizona’s chief hockey development officer.

The Coyotes drafted Josh Doan in the second round of the 2021, but he opted to play for the hometown Arizona State Sun Devils.

Josh Doan set school records for goals (12) and assists (25) as a freshman last season. He had 16 goals and 22 assists in 39 games with Arizona State this season.

The 6-foot-1, 183-pounder also played two seasons for the Chicago Steel of the USHL.

Blackhawks forward Cole Guttman has shoulder surgery

Jamie Sabau-USA TODAY Sports

CHICAGO — Chicago Blackhawks forward Cole Guttman had surgery on his right shoulder.

The team said the operation was performed in Los Angeles. Team physician Michael Terry said the 23-year-old Guttman is expected “to be out of hockey activities for approximately four months.”

Guttman had been a pleasant surprise for rebuilding Chicago. He made his NHL debut last month and finished the season with four goals and two assists in 14 games.

Guttman was selected by Tampa Bay in the 2017 draft. He agreed to a two-year contract with Chicago in August 2022 that had a $950,000 salary cap hit.