Benning Drawing Some Attention (And Blood)

Of all the off-season acquisitions that Peter Chiarelli made this summer, I didn’t pay much mind to Matthew Benning. I figured he would be AHL bound and a call-up option down the road when injury was bound to strike. I did not give him the credit he was due.

Chiarelli was clearly familiar with the player. Benning was a former sixth round pick (175th) of the Boston Bruins in 2012. He went from the AJHL to the USHL for a year, then from the USHL to Northeastern University in Boston. This is a prospect that the former Bruin general manager obviously had kept tabs on and when Benning became a free agent it made sense to make an offer from the Oilers.

Benning checks off a lot of boxes for the Oilers. He’s a good Edmonton boy. Well, actually he’s listed as St. Albert born in some places and Edmonton in others, but we’ll give him a pass on that. His family is from North Edmonton (Delwood) and both his father and his uncle played in the NHL. His father Brian even played 18 games for the Oilers (the team traded Josef Beranek and Greg Hawgood for him), something Matt is on pace to blow right past.

More than just being from the area and likely to relish playing for the team, Benning is a right-shooting defender who was ready for the professional game at 22-years-old. Still, not being overly big (just 6′ feet tall) or overly heavy (just 202 pounds), and not being overly offensive (19 points in 41 games in his final season with the Huskies), it was pretty easy to overlook the player based on the extremely small public information.

Chiarelli trusted his read on the player, though, and the Oilers are benefitting pretty well from it today.

Matt Benning has been impressive since joining the Oilers on the third pair with Darnell Nurse. There have been shaky moments, but the more he has played the more confident he has appeared. As an NHL rookie I expect there will be more tense moments in the future, but that’s normal. It’s rare for a defender to step into the NHL and play without the telltale signs of inexperience.

What’s nice for Benning is that by eye and by number he is raising eyebrows. He’s shown some comfort level playing with the puck on his stick. He’s even a potential PP option for the team. Benning averages 59 seconds of PP time per game so far. If he continues to assert himself, that could climb. In the last five or six games his physicality has been more prevalent as well, culminating in that wicked hit on Nate MacKinnon.

As someone who spends a fair amount of time looking at the underlying stats — the shot attempt metrics, the PDO, the zone starts, and anything else I can get my hands on that isn’t immediately available and hard to keep track of by only watching the game once — what I love to see is Matt Benning at the top of the list for some important statistical categories.

For Oiler defenders who have played at least 100 minutes 5v5, this is where Benning ranks on the club*:

Points per 60: 1st

Goals For Percentage: 1st

Corsi For Percentage: 1st

Corsi For Relative to Teammates: 1st

Fenwick For Percentage: 2nd

Shots For Percentage: 3rd

Scoring Chance For Percentage: 1st

One other very interesting stat for me has been average shot distance. It’s something that OilersNerdAlert of Twitter and the Oilogosphere was able to track down and tabulate. I’ll leave his tweets below.

It’s very interesting to note that when Benning is on the ice, so far, the opposition has been shooting from further away from the net. It’s also nice to see that this isn’t just happening when Benning is on the ice with Nurse but also when he’s on the ice with Sekera or Klefbom.

These are early days, my friends, and before we get too swept up with Benning being first in so many categories, let’s also acknowledge that he is largely playing third pairing minutes. He’s averaging just over 16 minutes a night in ice-time, getting lots of starts in the offensive zone (by far the highest percentage on the blueline), and is generally being sheltered by two pairings ahead of him on the depth chart. He’s also riding some sky-high percentages.

I cannot overstate that Benning’s 109.3 PDO will drop back down to normal levels eventually. Based on that number, there’s no question why Benning is passing our eye tests with flying colors. He’s positively affecting the shot attempt numbers and also riding great percentages. The good news is that it looks like it’s the goals for that will fall down more than the goals against will rise, based on the indicators we have.

That said, all you can ask from a player when you shelter them is that they perform in those circumstances. That’s exactly what Benning has done. There will be times in the future when the staff or the roster is unable to keep Benning out of the tough situations, that’s why they have Gryba and underscores the importance of depth. For now, Matt Benning has been a positive addition to the blueline and a player to keep an eye on as he develops and his responsibilities are expanded.

*All stats via stats.hockeyanalysis.com except for scoring chance data via naturalstattrick.com

    • Mike Krushelnyski

      It wasn’t like he caught him by surprise either. You could see MacKinnon consciously make the decision like, “Surely this rookie who is much smaller than me isn’t going to plant me on my ass if I cut to the middle…” Nope!

      Huge props to Chia for actually creating depth on the blueline. Gryba, Benning and Russell were all under the radar or maligned signings, and all 3 have made big contributions already. Under the old regime, the injuries we’ve had would’ve meant Reinhart playing second pairing.

  • Keepyourstickontheice

    A guy could get used to a GM who can find talent from the college system. Not sure at the moment whether I like Benning or Cagguila more, but they’re both fun to watch.

  • TruthHurts98

    Very nice signing and I too thought he wasn’t NHL ready for another year or two. Having that nasty edge to his game is something that can’t be taught.

  • Hemmercules

    ChiaPete actually knows what he’s doing. Go figure.

    Benning has been a pleasant surprise for sure. Will be interesting to see what happens when Davidson comes back, Benning is making a case to stick around. Not sure on the waiver situations of both players though??

  • SourGrapes

    I absolutely agree with your assessment. He was a bit of an accident waiting to happen in his first few games – especially when retrieving the puck in the d zone under pressure. He does seem more comfortable and confident now and it’s good to see mgmt use him in appropriate situations. Still too small a sample size to know what kind of player he’ll develop into.

    I wonder if he’ll continue on this development curve or whether he’ll run out of gas and need further time in the minors to hone his craft.

    On a similar note, now that Nurse doesn’t have to play top pair minutes, hopefully he’ll start to develop into the player we hoped he’d be when they drafted him.

  • Big Jacks Meat

    12 – 8 – 1

    Ill take it. Now for all the poop kickings the
    Yotes have given us , don’t blow it. Take the next 2. Then we will slap the sap out of the Make Beleafs.

  • Hemmercules

    That top pic is so great. Lots going on. Baby Nuge just trying to get outta the way, Jessie going hard and determined, the look of shock on Mckinnons face, Conner taking a break from destroying defences to watch some big screen for a bit.

    I wonder if the league looks at the hit?? Looks clean to me but from that view shown above it looks like a shoulder to the chin is the first point of impact. Keep it up boys, midgets on the team showing the big boys how to hit lately.

  • Mitch92

    There were some nice goals scored in that game but we will be talking about that hit long after we forget about the goals that were scored! That is the power of a big open ice hit.

  • OilCan2

    PC has his fingerprints all over this edition of the Oilers.

    Larsson, Russell and Benning just simply RULE the Right D. One has to look no further than the right side last season to see the improvement.

    In the perfect team your third pairing guys are competent and IMPROVING. It is nice to have them young and hungry for the next contract too. Let’s just check those boxes and get on with the next exciting game.

  • Looch#27

    Nurse and Benning have been a very pleasant surprise this year both looking composed with the puck and aggressive without it. Love all these positive articles and comments! Oilers winning is truly the balm needed for all our past burns GO OIL!!!

  • Didn’t know he was from St.Albert/Edmonton…

    Cheers this if you also grew up dreaming you’d play in the NHL one day, with the Oilers. Trash it if you were realistic and never bothered with such nonsense.

    I had to put that dream to rest when I turned 35. As you can tell I wasn’t being realistic at all…yet still in the back of my mind…still dreamt about it. 😛

  • A-Mc

    Teams lose when the fancies say they should be winning
    Teams win when the Fancies said they shouldn’t

    What’s nice is that it SEEMS like the Fancies, the Eyeballs and the results are falling in line with one another more frequently for the Oilers these days. This basically tells us that the Oilers aren’t defying the odds like Calgary did a couple years ago, and that makes me happy.

    #GOilers

  • Hamm34

    Love that Benning is in the lineup now. I may have had a bit to drink but would love to see him turn into a more balanced tyson barrie. obviously we all would but think that he could develop into such a player. Also love seeing Nurse gain confidence and becoming a solid player, saw him in the summer and he looked lanky as usual but i cant wait to see him put on 20 pounds and become a monster on the blue line. I was born in 96 and havent seen/ dont remember much of this team being successful but love seeing them succeed. Like the Cubs we were lovable losers but now we are turning into a team that others dont want to play and we’re seeing less backup goalies and putting up wins. LOVE IT!!!!!