Mon Jul 23 04:17pm EDT
Sam Bennett knows Rome — or a winning team in a city which hasn't had one for some time — wasn't built in a day.
The left wing was the second of the four high picks Kingston GM Doug Gilmour and coach Todd Gill hope will be main pieces of a future Ontario Hockey League contender, something Fronts fans haven't had since the days of Keli Corpse and David Ling in the mid-1990s. Of course, even at the pro level, a team's history can't be laid on the shoulders of players who are coming through only fleetingly. But Bennett, who was a linemate of phenom Connor McDavid in minor hockey and has already taken Gilmour's famed No. 93 in Kingston, is eager to be part of a turnaround gang in K-town.
"Obviously, it's going to be tough the first couple years," says the 6-foot, 170-pounder whom Gilmour took with the compensatory pick the Frontenacs received after trading budding London Knights standout Max Domi last summer. "But as we grow together I think we have a shot to be a great team in a couple years.
"I think it would be even better if we could win with a team with hasn't had very much success and turn that around compared to with a team which has always had success and has always won."
Bennett, who was his team's MVP in the Greater Toronto Hockey League top prospects game last winter, prides himself on playing an all-around, team-focused game.
He's spent this summer getting up at 6 a.m. six days a week to train alongside his buddy McDavid with former NHLer Gary Roberts. He hopes that will give him a better shot to holding up well to the OHL's 68-game grind as a 16-year-old.
"I do want to be a player who they can depend on," he says. "I want to be a player who they won't be afraid to put on to put on in the last 30 seconds to score a goal or to prevent a goal. I want to be that guy. I know it's a lot to ask because I'll be a rookie, but I'm hoping I can do it."
The Frontenacs had a near unprecedented four of the first picks in the priority selection. After McDavid went to the Erie Otters, they took Bennett's fellow teammate from the Toronto Marlboros, defenceman Roland McKeown. They also took a potential shutdown defender, Dylan Di Perna, and goal-scoring wing hopeful, Spencer Watson, at Nos. 23 and 24. Bennett plans on being a glue guy.
"I'm a two-way forward who looks after his own end first and I like to throw the body around, but I can score goals too."
A lot of prospect watchers might have Kingston's Sept. 30 game against Erie circled. Three of the four top-10 picks from the Marlboros should be on the ice, with Bennett and McKeown facing the Otters' McDavid.
"I'm not going to take it easy on him," Bennett says of his former linemate.
1. The Frontenacs were the first team since the introduction of the OHL's comp pick rule to have a top five pick and another selection in the top 10. What does being part of a building team with Roland McKeown, a minor hockey teammate, mean to you?
"I really was not expecting to play with Roland anywhere. I thought I would never see him again. I'm just really excited because we're really good friends and to go to a young team and grow together, watch him grow as a player, will be really special."
2. Whom in the NHL do you take as a role model, not just for how he plays but how he handles himself?
"That would definitely be Mike Richards [of the Stanley Cup champion Los Angeles Kings, also a past MasterCard Memorial Cup champion with the Kitchener Rangers]. He's such a great leader and he wins at everything he does. He just won a Stanley Cup. Just how he looks after himself on and off the ice is amazing and I look up to him."
3. As a young player, there's probably no skill you can ignore developing, but what is something specific really want to improve at this season?
"Mostly I want to improve my hand skills in front of the net and work on my shot. The goalies are going to be so much better and I'm really going to have to improve my shot to be successful. And, of course, I have to get bigger and stronger."
4. Aside from family, who has had the greatest impact on you in hockey?
"All my coaches throughout the year. Ken Strong [with the Toronto Marlboros] really helped me last year. The main coach would be Brian McDavid [father of Connor McDavid]. He was my coach for four years with York-Simcoe [Express] ... minor atom to major peewee.
"He's helped me so much. Mostly he's taught me what it takes to win. I've always been a focused kid, but he can get the point across without yelling and screaming and everything he says, I'm able to take in."
5. Most embarrassing moment ever in hockey?
"Most embarrassing moment. Let me think. I don't think I've had too many embarrassing moments I can think of right now." (BTN: That's a good answer.) "I hope I didn't have too many embarrassing moments out there." (There's always something like forgetting to take your skate guards off, or something?) "Ah, I have done that before. It was a while ago, but I remember I had both skate guards on and I fell. It was with York-Simcoe, probably in atom. Only my teammates saw it. A few of them gave me a little tap as they skated by me."
Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Canada Sports. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet .