‘You can’t lose hope’: Perseverance pays off as Summerside’s Bennett MacArthur lands NHL contract

There was a time, Bennett MacArthur admits, when he thought a career in hockey was not in his future — at least not on the ice.

A chiropractor, maybe, but not a player.

He was 15, waiting to be drafted into the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, the natural path many young players from the Maritimes take on their journey to the National Hockey League.

The call never came.

From left, Noah Dobson, Zack MacEwen, Ross Johnston and Jordan Spence are all from P.E.I. and playing in the NHL. MacEwen and Johnston were undrafted. (The Associated Press)

“That was a really tough day for me,” he recalled in a recent interview with CBC.

But now, a distant memory.

On March 1, the 21-year-old MacArthur signed a three-year contract with the Stanley Cup champion Tampa Bay Lightning worth, according to CapFriendly.com, $2.7 million.

“Everybody peaks at a different time,” he said. “And the biggest thing is just you can’t lose hope and faith and just keep working on your game.”

That wouldn’t be the last time MacArthur was passed over. After finally making it to the QMJHL in 2020 with the Acadie-Bathurst Titan, he again waited for a call that never came — this time at the NHL draft last summer.

It was only after he improved his skating and put up head-turning scoring statistics — 32 goals in 36 games so far this year — that he could no longer be ignored.

It’s a lesson in perseverance Prince Edward Islanders have seen before. Of the four players from P.E.I. currently in the NHL, two — Zack MacEwen of Stratford and Ross Johnston of Suffolk — were not selected in the NHL draft and, like MacArthur, were considered “late bloomers.” (The other two, Noah Dobson of Summerside and Jordan Spence of Cornwall, were selected in the first and fourth rounds of their respective draft years.)

Great to see the group of P.E.I. kids that are in pro hockey right now — makes me happy and proud.— New York Rangers coach Gerard Gallant

“They’re great guys to look up to,” MacArthur said. “Ross actually reached out to me after I signed the contract so that was really nice as well. So yeah, great role models to me.”

Gerard Gallant of Summerside, head coach of the NHL’s New York Rangers, is not surprised MacArthur landed an NHL contract. He said strong work ethic and “great character” get noticed at the top levels.

“It’s always disappointing when you don’t get drafted, but Bennett and the other guys never gave up, they worked hard in the offseason and made themselves better players,” he said in a text message to CBC.

“There’s lots of great players that were never drafted. Great to see the group of P.E.I. kids that are in pro hockey right now — makes me happy and proud.”

‘They’ve given me every opportunity, taken me to countless places, signed me up for camps when I was younger and everything like that,’ MacArthur says of his parents. (Zoom)

For now, MacArthur is focusing his efforts on leading the Titan — rivals of the Charlottetown Islanders — to the QMJHL championship and beyond. 

In the fall, he’ll head to Tampa for training camp. And once again, he’ll have to win over any doubters.

“I’ve kind of dealt with that my whole life I guess,” he said. “I was always the undrafted guy coming in trying to prove myself but I think now that I’m signed I have just as much chance as anyone else, so that’s the main thing, that’s my mindset, I’m trying to steal somebody’s job now.”

‘A real competitor’

The Lightning like what they’ve seen so far.

“He’s a 200-foot player. He’s offensive minded. He can really shoot it. Good skater, has above average skill and he’s a real competitor,” said Stacy Roest, Tampa’s assistant GM and director of player development, in an email to CBC.

“He fits a lot of what we were looking for as a Bolt, and we’re really excited to start working with him.”

If he makes the team, his NHL contract will kick in. If he doesn’t, he’ll play for the AHL’s Syracuse Crunch at a salary under $100,000.

Treating parents to supper

Either way, he said he’s thankful for the many people who never stopped believing in him, especially his parents, Adam and Lindsay MacArthur.

“They’ve been unbelievable. They’ve given me every opportunity, taken me to countless places, signed me up for camps when I was younger and everything like that,” he said.

“I’ll have to treat them to a nice supper or something.”

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