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Calgary's Bennett cuts his NHL teeth in playoffs as his contract kicks in

05/05/2015 07:00 EDT | Updated 05/05/2016 05:59 EDT
CALGARY - Sam Bennett reaches a hockey milestone significant to him and the Calgary Flames in Tuesday's playoff game against the Anaheim Ducks.

Head coach Bob Hartley confirmed the 18-year-old will play his 10th NHL game in Game 3 of the series, which means the first year of Bennett's three-year, entry-level contract officially kicks in.

Bennett made his NHL debut — and collected an assist for his first point — in Calgary's regular-season finale in Winnipeg on April 11.

The speedy, scrappy forward from Holland Landing, Ont., has been a fixture in the Flames lineup since then, so he played all but one of his first nine NHL games in the heat of the post-season.

"I wasn't expecting it, but this is probably one of the most exciting ways to start your career for sure," Bennett said.

The fourth overall pick in the 2014 NHL entry draft has three goals and an assist in his eight playoff games, including the game-winner in the third game of Calgary's first-round series against Vancouver.

The six-foot-one, 178-pound Bennett quickly made himself indispensable to Calgary's chances of advancing in the post-season with a game of sandpaper and skill.

Bennett scored Calgary's lone goal in the first game of their Western Conference semifinal against the Ducks, who lead the series 2-0.

Bennett also played two periods on Calgary's top line alongside centre Sean Monahan and right-winger Jiri Hudler in Sunday's Game 2.

He reported to the Flames training camp in September, but required shoulder surgery in October. Bennett rejoined the Ontario Hockey League's Kingston Frontenacs for their final 11 games of the regular season and four playoff games before Calgary recalled him.

"Just from my first game in Winnipeg to now playing in the Stanley Cup playoffs and just how comfortable I feel now compared to the beginning when I was really nervous, now I feel 100 per cent comfortable playing in the NHL," Bennett said.

"That's something I'm proud of for sure."

It's a good-news, bad-news scenario for the Flames, who will need to go deep into the post-season to get more than 20 games out of Bennett in the first year of his contract.

His trajectory towards restricted free agency and salary arbitration also hastens when he steps on the Scotiabank Saddledome ice Tuesday.

But if playing Bennett now is viewed as "burning" the first year of his contract, Hartley says he's not about to keep the player out of the lineup for contractual reasons.

The coach says general manager Brad Treliving and president of hockey operations Brian Burke have never discussed Bennett's contract status with him.

"They always allow me to play the players that we feel will make us win," Hartley said. "We're a pro organization, we're a very classy organization.

"He played a great game in Winnipeg and obviously that gave us the green light to put him in the lineup.

"He's a pit bull that kid. He wants to play, wants to go hard so we're trying to teach him NHL hockey at the same time he's helping us to win in the playoffs. It's a win-win situation for everyone and he's a great kid to work with."

Rookie contracts for players drafted between 2011 and 2022 are capped at an annual salary of $925,000 under the collective bargaining agreement.

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