This has been a season of adjustment for Florida Panthers forward Sam Bennett.
On Monday night, Bennett and the Panthers will open a four-game road trip by visiting the Minnesota Wild in Saint Paul, Minn.
Bennett, who scored a career-high 28 goals last season in his first full campaign with the Panthers, has thrived despite some changes around him.
First, interim coach Andrew Brunette was replaced by Paul Maurice, who brought in a more structured system.
Then Jonathan Huberdeau, who had a monster year and led the Panthers last season in points (115) and assists (85), was traded, and Anthony Duclair, who scored a career-high 31 goals, ruptured his Achilles tendon in the summer.
Suddenly, both of Bennett’s linemates were gone.
“With Duclair and Huberdeau, it was all speed,” said Bennett, who has just 14 goals in 54 games this season. “Now it’s more in-zone plays — grinding it out. It’s a different game, more battles.”
To be fair, Bennett still has excellent linemates — Matthew Tkachuk, who leads Florida in assists (46) and points (73), and Carter Verhaeghe, who tops the team in goals (28).
Those two have helped Bennett, 26, tie his career high in assists with 21. Bennett has plenty of time to smash that personal best, and he needs just 15 points to get a career high there, too.
In other words, other than his goal-scoring number declining, it hasn’t been too bad for Bennett, who has quickly earned respect from Maurice.
“(Bennett) is one of those throwback guys,” Maurice said of Bennett, who was Calgary’s first-round pick, fourth overall, in 2014. “He says about 10 words a year, and he works his (butt) off every shift.”
The Panthers lost 5-3 to the Colorado Avalanche on Saturday but have won three of their past four games. They will face a Wild team that is coming off a 3-2 shootout win over New Jersey on Saturday.
Minnesota is 1-1-0 so far in a seven-game homestand.
Since Jan. 7, however, the Wild have lost nine of 15 games. During this span, they have suffered three losing streaks of three games apiece. They also have one three-game winning streak.
The Wild have one of the top-rated farm systems in the NHL, and the latest evidence of that is winger Matt Boldy, who tallied 24 assists as a rookie last year and already has 21 in this campaign.
Third-year pro Kirill Kaprizov set a Wild franchise record last season in goals (47) and points (108). He leads the team in both categories again this season, posting 29 goals and 62 points, including a team-high 33 assists.
Kaprizov, 25, Boldy, 21, and goalie Filip Gustavsson, 24, are all part of Minnesota’s core.
Gustavsson, who beat the Devils on Saturday, is 12-8-1 with a 2.25 goals-against average and a .923 save percentage. He’s paired with 38-year-old Marc-Andre Fleury, who is 16-12-3 with a 2.98 GAA and a .902 save percentage.
Gustavsson was asked about Minnesota’s three-game losing streak that he helped end on Saturday.
“I’ve been on losing streaks before with previous teams, and the best way to do it was just try not to feel the pressure,” Gustavsson said.
On Monday the Wild will likely face Panthers starting goalie Sergei Bobrovsky (14-14-2, 3.13 GPA, .903 save percentage).
–Field Level Media