Mac Bennett was supposed to be one of the more interesting rookies to follow last year for the Hamilton Bulldogs but his rookie season was underwhelming to say the least. As a result, he finds himself squarely on the hot seat heading into 2015-16.
At 23 last year, it was expected that Bennett would be able to step up right away and play regularly on the second or third pairings. Instead, he struggled to get in the lineup early on and when he finally did get to play, he saw limited minutes.
While he did become a regular later on in the year (thanks to a multitude of injuries and recalls), Bennett never really solidified a spot in Sylvain Lefebvre’s good books. He didn’t see much in the way of special teams time nor did he stand out in any meaningful way on a regular basis. His season as a whole was mediocre at best.
Fortunately for the Bulldogs last year, they had enough blueline depth to compensate for Bennett not having much of an impact. Unfortunately for the IceCaps this coming season, none of those players will be around next year. Nathan Beaulieu and Jarred Tinordi will be in Montreal, Davis Drewiske signed with the Flyers (a much bigger loss than most realize), and Bryan Allen won’t be back either.
Instead, St. John’s blueline ‘depth’ on the left side consists of Bennett and two other players. One of those is Mark Barberio, who has been a regular 6/7 defenceman with Tampa Bay the past two years and accordingly, may not actually clear waivers to make it down to the minors. The other is Joel Hanley, a player who, quite frankly, has some similarities to Bennett, ranging from his style of play to the fact he didn’t have a great rookie season either. In other words, there’s not much to work with.
As a result, the kid gloves are going to be off Bennett next year unless their defence situation drastically changes between now and training camp. Now at 24 years old, he will be one of the elder statesmen of the IceCaps (he’ll be the oldest defender if Barberio isn’t there) and he’s going to have to play more than a sparing role. He’ll likely be in the top four and will have to play both the power play and the penalty kill. Being mediocre at best isn’t going to be anywhere near good enough as a result.
I was hoping there would be talk of a more assertive Bennett at the most recent development camp but by all accounts, that wasn’t the case. That’s not the end of the world as this was just an offseason session but he needs to stand out more when the team participates in their rookie tournament closer to training camp.
There is plenty at stake for Bennett this coming season. If he steps up, he’s going to move himself up the depth chart pretty quickly. If he has a repeat of last year though, he may not even get a contract offer come next June. It’s safe to say the pressure is there and Bennett will be on the hot seat when the puck drops on the 2015-16 season.