While going through some data since the calendar turned to 2022, I noticed that Sam Bennett's ice time has been on a slide. He has 15:12 per game over his last four games, but it would be hard to blame someone for missing that, buried underneath his six goals and eight points in those four contests. The production is great, and as someone who was very high on Bennett before the season, it's nice to see this come around. At the same time, any centre skating 15 minutes a night is concerning, regardless of the quality of his team.
The big issue is where he lost those minutes. Losing two minutes of short-handed time wouldn't hurt much, and players can sustain losing a couple minutes of even-strength ice time. However, Bennett lost his top PP slotting, and losing 2-3 minutes a night of top PP time on that team is a big loss in value.
It's tough to say what to do here. He could be put back on the top power-play unit basically any game now and it wouldn't be out of place. He also could stay on the second unit for the balance of the regular season. We should also note he hasn’t been a huge PP producer this year, so it’s a question how much value he actually lost. Losing 2-3 minutes per game from the power play isn’t great, but it will also hurt peripherals like hits and shots, and those things are what separate him from other 60- or 70-point centres.
As it is, Bennett owners have a decision to make. He is on a hit streak and fantasy owners may be buying into a turnaround here. It's a question of what the return is. In all likelihood, just hanging onto him and seeing where this can go is probably the right idea.
While I was looking through shot rates for Bennett, I noticed that Nikita Kucherov is in the top-10 by shot rate since his return earlier this month. He has at least three shots on goal in each game so far, managing 23 shots in the five contests. That might be a bit high for a per-game mark, but it was just a few years ago that Kucherov managed 3.5 shots per game over the course of a season. That would be a nice tick up from what he's done his last couple regular seasons, and a boost to the fantasy profile of an already-elite winger.
Looking ahead to Tampa's near-term schedule, it's a trip to California followed by home games against New Jersey, Vegas, and San Jose after that. Not really a brutal lineup of games for the next couple weeks, so if he can keep shooting like this, he could be on fire heading into the Artist Formerly Known As The Olympic Break. It really is nice to see him return and look healthy. It seems like forever since we've been able to regularly enjoy some regular-season brilliance from the former Hart Trophy winner.
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