College free agents are like a box of chocolates: You never know what you are going to get. Oilers fans were thrilled when Justin Schultz signed back in the day, but enthusiasm was tempered on the day Edmonton signed Matt Benning. Why are things working out differently for Benning? Well, early days, so sweeping statements are unwise, but let’s have a look at the numbers. 


The Oilers under Todd McLellan have taken a slow, measured approach to TOI for Matt Benning. In spite of outstanding numbers—boxcars and fancy—McLellan has been using his rookie in a specific role. We can show the differences in handling (as rookies) between Justin Schultz and Benning with TOI disciplines:

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  • Even strength per game: Benning 15:27 per game; Schultz 17:39 per game.
  • Power play per game: Benning 0:30 per game; Schultz 3:12 per game.
  • Penalty kill per game: Benning 0:43 per game; Schultz 0:34 per game.
  • Total minutes per game: Benning 16:41 per game; Schultz 21:26 per game.
  • Source

Just a little shy of five minutes a game, with two EV shaved off for the 2016-17 rookie. Benning is being asked to play less, thus getting an opportunity to find his footing in the NHL game. Benning’s offensive acumen may be useful on the power play in the future. Todd McLellan hasn’t used him much, allowing Benning to focus on the 5×5 portion of his duties.


Another area we can examine is defensive partners and linemates. Is Todd McLellan sheltering Benning? Let’s start by going back to Justin Schultz and his rookie season:

  • Most common partners 5×5: NIck Schultz (545 minutes), Ryan Whitney (120 minutes).
  • Most common linemates 5×5: Jordan Eberle (302 minutes), RNH (268 minutes), Taylor Hall (260 minutes)
  • Source

So, if Justin Schultz played 33 percent of his rookie 5×5 minutes with Taylor Hall, we can reasonably argue he was in a prominent role and not being sheltered. Fair? Let’s look at Benning:

  • Most common partners 5×5: Andrej Sekera (254 minutes), Brandon Davidson (135 minutes).
  • Most common linemates 5×5: Connor McDavid (221 minutes), Leon Draisaitl (202 minutes), Milan Lucic (196 minutes).
  • Source

So, if Matt Benning played 33 percent of his rookie 5×5 minutes with Connor McDavid, we can reasonably argue he was in a prominent role. Fair again?

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Although not yet publicly available, the Woodmoney metric measures quality of competition, and puts opponents into levels (elite, mid, low) of quality. Benning’s usage against elites has increased over the season, and the latest reading shows the following:

  • Elite 5×5: 226:52
  • Mid 5×5: 230:57
  • Low 5×5: 212:35

That elite number has been climbing over the season, and is a really positive arrow for this player.


The Oilers have stripped away a lot of the workload Justin Schultz faced, and given Matt Benning a real chance to flourish as a rookie. He has done it, and now the team appears to be adding more difficult minutes, and may add more power-play time in the future.

Justin Schultz clearly had talent, but could never step forward as an Oiler. He seemed to be repeating the mistakes of past seasons and only a trade to Pittsburgh turned his fortunes in a positive way. What did the Penguins do with Schultz? Stripped down the number of minutes, took away heavy responsibility, and had Schultz flourish at that level.

Seems to be working for Schultz, and the same kind of handling is working for Edmonton with young Matt Benning.

Who should we blame? I tend to think the answer is no one. Edmonton was in a tough spot when Schultz arrived, and can afford to be a little more patient with Benning. If Ralph Krueger had more veteran and able options in 2012-13, the story of Schultz as an Oiler may have had a far happier ending. As it is, Matt Benning is shining like a diamond, and appears ready to carry more of the load.

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  • FISTO Siltanen

    Only thing I hope is that the Oilers don’t follow up next year assuming he’s anything more than what he is.

    He might be a top-4 dman. Hell, he might be a number one by Christmas next year for all I know. But it would be foolish to assume his position on this team any sooner than it needs to be.

    So Chiarelli – please do right by the kid and keep him sheltered till he’s overripe.

  • Silver Streak

    Benning brings an entire different side to the position that Schultz didn’t and hasn’t…..defence ! along with that a strong enjoyment of playing physical hockey. He is a gift….he is a team first guy…he is an Edmonton boy…..Chia…thank you , and please do not screw up his new long term contract negotiations….get this done asap.

  • Oil9744

    Schultz was very poorly managed when he was here, goes to show you how important good managment and a good coaching staff can be, Benning is doing awesome as a 3rd line dman and even playing higher minutes with Russel out, he’s already taken over Davidsons spot on the team which is more reason to move Davidson before Vegas takes him for nothing, Benning and Nurse are a very solid 3rd line and only gonna get better!

  • Explicit

    “Who should we blame?”

    ” If Ralph Krueger had more veteran and able options in 2012-13, the story of Schultz as an Oiler may have had a far happier ending.”

    Sounds like blame could be placed on management and not no one as you believe.

  • HardBoiledOil 1.0

    @Oil9744….true dis. Schultz is being used properly in Pittsburgh and, like we all knew would happen because it’s happened to so many other former Oilers, has flourished.

  • Big Jacks Meat

    I want home ice advantage so the Library
    turns into a garth brooks show x 10.

    Home ice. Go get it.

    ps I know we are better on the road but hey.

    I want one more piece at the deadline , it will be subtle I know but I want that Veteran Sniper or 3rd line Center with size and hands and..

    ok ok asking too much.

    OILERS- out of the grave and filling the hole for good.

  • JackB

    Yes ! Absolutely !

    Getting Benning as a college free agent (and Caggiula) this last off-season was fantastic.

    When we got them, we had just finished one point out of last place the previous year (and it is said that several teams were courting them as free agents)

    I am absolutely convinced that neither of them would have chosen the 29th place team in the NHL WITHOUT us having Connor McDavid.

    After getting McDavid, his mere presence on our team helped us get Chiarelli (who was crafty enough to get us Talbot for 2 later round picks, Kassian and Maroon); McLellan; Sekera; Lucic, Benning; and Caggiula.

    AND WE HAVE NOW BECOME A DESTINATION TEAM for free agents (where previously we had to OVERPAY players to come here)

    AND NOW we have moved from 29th in the league to 8th . . . and will be in the playoff’s . . . WITH THE POSSIBILITY OF A FIRST ROUND HOME PLAYOFF SERIES !!!!


    AND . . . watching Connor’s play on the ice this past year-and-a-half has been UTTERLY FANTASTIC !! UNBELIEVABLE !!


    P.S. I hope our amateur scouting staff is working hard to find us more “diamonds” in the college system.

  • The older I get, the better I was...

    A good article and I agree with most of the points, especially the impact of not having any quality defensive options and being forced to use Schultz in situations over his head.

    The biggest difference between Benning and Schultz is probably in the physical side – the willingness to take and give a hit. I do not ever recall Schultz going out of his way to deliver a message sending hit like Benning’s on McKinnon. And that is not the only big, timely hit he has delivered this year. Really happy to have him on our team.

  • JackB

    There are only 4 teams right now with winning streaks going:

    Florida (4 game streak)

    Edmonton (3 game streak)

    Boston (3 game streak)

    Buffalo (3 game streak)

    The hardest part of the season is this current 6 game road series (and we won the 1st game!) Now we play:

    TBL (14 pts. behind us)

    FLA (8 pts. behind us)

    WSH (13 pts. ahead of us – but we beat them 4-1 on Oct 26th ??)

    NSH (10 pts. behind us)

    STL (5 pts. behind us)


    • Big Jacks Meat

      Its no Dream Little Brother. We are for real.
      Not cup contenders yet..but we are the real deal.
      Look at the top teams we have beaten. I don’t need to list them.. We all know.

      OILERS – out of the grave and filling the hole.

  • Rusty Patenaude

    I disagree that no one is to blame for the train wreck that was the handling of Justin Schultz. The two people responsible for screwing up Schultz were Craig MacTavish (he of the future Norris Trophy expectations) and Dallas Eakins who totally mishandled Schultz. He was doing very well under Krueger…it was in season 2 that he became overwhelmed and confused (he was not the only one).

  • oilerjed

    If Nurse is coming back and replacing Gryba and Benning is looking ready handle at least a bottom pairing the Oilers the Oilers have to try and get something for Russel?

    Resigning him will push Nurse or Benning out of the lineup, if Benning and Nurse can hold their own we can save some valuable cap space.

  • Connor McJesus

    I honestly hated the way things turned out with Schultz, he’s +31 on Pens and 6th overall in the league, so that just goes to show how badly our management messed up his development. How sh*tty would it be if Schultz ended up winning the Norris a couple years down the stretch? I wouldn’t be mad, just hugely disappointed.

    But in the end, we got low enough due to Schultz to win the draft for McDavid, and with Benning’s performance, you kind of chuckle at the turn of events.

    • oilerjed

      +31 means he is on a better team, for sure. But as he has played less then one season for the Pens are you really trying to say that they have developed him at all? His usage is better, Ill give you that. Similar to Gagne in CLB, a 4th line player and getting outrageous numbers on the PP who was asked to do way too much on a bad team. Gags is never gonna win the Hart anymore then Shultz will win the Norris.

      • One key difference, beyond his usage, is that he’s confident again.

        If you’ve watched any of Schultz’s AHL games, you’d have seen the Norris potential. He was dominant. He led the entire league in points for over a month even after leaving the league. He stripped pucks, created turnovers, passed the puck up ice beautifully, straddled the blue line on the PP like an angel, and had some of the best set up passes on the team.

        But you don’t take a player like him and put him in the NHL vs the best forwards on every NHL team. He cratered with Eakins (who hadn’t?) and couldn’t recover.

        You haven’t seen him when he played with confidence. He was a broken player on the Oilers, and if it wasn’t Hall screaming at him on the ice, the fans started getting on him as well.

        But on the Pens, he looks like his old self again.

        • oilerjed

          Being dominant in the AHL means very little to what you can do in the NHL.
          Not to pile on but when you say “a player like him” do you mean soft in along the boards, no physicality at all and only able to score points on the PP?
          I won’t begrudge him the success he is finding in Pittsburgh but to suggest that he is anything more then a third paring powerplay specialist is a stretch.

          • Bills Bills

            Lol not one player on the Oilers has a plus minus even close to JS. I hope he does win a Norris one day. He didn’t deserve to be played the way he was here, just like so many blue chip prospects before him, he was almost destroyed by inept management. He’s young and has huge upside. Good on Pittsburgh for helping him turn his career around and good on him for putting in the work. He was defeated as an Oiler and now he can show the critics what he’s capable of.

          • You’re completely right in your first statement, and that’s why you need to shelter that person when they come into the league. That AHL performance doesn’t mean NHL domination from the get-go, but it shows that you got something worth keeping and developing.

            Learning how to play physical against Kane, Toews, Crosby, Ovechkin, Malkin, the Sedins, etc. when all of these player will burn you on a missed check, isn’t the best way. I think that’s where developing physical play in the NHL could’ve been better for him.

            And thankfully we’re seeing that with Benning. I think Benning can hold his own, physically, but he wasn’t (and maybe still isn’t) a physical force like Gryba or Larsson. But he’s developing an attitude where he’s roughing people up when he needs to, and that’s great to see. What do you think? Am I seeing things that aren’t there?

            Not every Dman has to play the same way, either. He doesn’t have to be the next Pronger. One of my favourite Dmen of all time, Niklas Lidstrom, was competent physically but much stronger in other areas. When I saw Schultz at the AHL level, he looked more like Lidstrom than Pronger.

            I think you’re right when you say that Schultz will never be dominant in board battles, etc. What we could debate is how far that gets a person, I think a person could be a 1st line guy when paired with a physical force as a partner, but I could be wrong. Maybe that’s what separates first like Dmen from others.

            But my original point was more about the one thing we forget, which is confidence. The Pens may not have developed his game that much, but they at least put him in a position so he can play confidently.

            Thankfully I think the Oilers have done the same for players like Benning and Caggulia, sheltering them enough to grow.

            What Benning lacks in skill, he makes up in effort, I think that’s what makes him a tad more lovable than guys like Schultz that were highly skilled but it didn’t look like he was playing each shift like it was Game 7 of the SCF, where Benning seems to put it all out there.

      • pkam

        Sure he is on a better team, but his +/- is not only the best in his team, he lead his teammates by a wide margin.

        When he arrived the Pens after the trade last season, he was benched for about 3 weeks. He played his first game when there was an injury. If I remembered correctly, he played on the 3rd pair for about 10 minutes.

        Then by the end of the season, he was playing about 13 minutes in the 3rd pairing.

        This season, he started again in 3rd pairing playing about 13 minutes. Recently he is playing about 20-21 minutes behind Letang. When Letang was injured earlier, he was playing the top pairing for about 23 minutes.

        It looks very good development by the Pens.

        Oilers fans keep talking about acquiring Shattenkirk from St. Louis. Shattenkirk ppg is 0.71 and Schultz is 0.70 but Shattenkirk plays 42 seconds more per game. So in terms of points per 60, Schultz is actually better. And in terms of +/-, Shattenkirk is the worst of St. Louis defenseman, Schultz is the best of all Pens. Not sure why some fans think Shattenkirk is so much better than Schultz.

        Will he win a Norris? I don’t know. But I know Weber and Suter have never won the trophy too. And none on the current Oilers roster seems to have a better chance than Schultz.

  • BlueHairedApe

    Bit of an oxymoron showing a video of Benning completely flattening Mackinnon and then comparing him to Schultz who wouldn’t make that hit in a million years. Schultz is still soft as butter and will never be the the player Benning is turning into. Point totals and other metrics will never show that.

        • BlueHairedApe

          They are two completely different players. Henderson is making comparisons when all they really have in common is they came out of the college system. Shultz is doing good in Pittsburgh and good on him. But I would rather have a player like Benning on my team. Toughness and defensive awareness are not measured by points. Also, if a player is used primarily on the power play his plus/minus will be naturally higher than a defenseman used in all situations.

  • Big Jacks Meat


    GO OIL.

    Yeah All CAPS, I’m just that pumped.

    Tweak and lets bring it Ducks or Sharks.

  • oilers1168

    Justin was never a great option on the PP to start with. He doesn’t have a slap shot, he was predictable, decision making was poor and he lollygags getting back to the D zone. Matt has a slapper and makes good decisions and he HITS. Matt is more of a 200 foot player, versatile and higher compete level for loose pucks. I would take Matt over Justin any day of the week. JMHO

  • Jordan88

    Yes, the fact he is a cornerstone of an Elite Pittsburgh team speaks Volumes to the Value of Schultz as a player.

    Another example of a mishandled asset from the previous regime.

    Schultz Norris potential? Laughable as an Oiler not so much as a Penguin.

    And yeah… his highlights in the AHL are mind blowing.

    Some of the leagues best Dmen never lay hits… however they can strip, skate, and be positionally aware. Justin can Skate with the best of them he always could. However his positional play was suspect. And that is all coaching and mentoring.

    Once he got that sorted he was able to overcome his shortcomings as a physical player and play as a cerebral defenceman, then it was being more aware and reading the play. He has Sidney Crosby as his Captain. Easily the most Cerebral player in the NHL as your captain. It was only time till Schultz’s offensive assets clicked for him. I for one am Happy for him.

  • jake

    Was he not on the ice for both short-handed goals against vs Coyotes on same shift (Reider?) couple years back? Fate was sealed then. Also, someone should ask Pittsburgh what they will pay him next year…should be interesting. In Edmonton, his cap-hit and where he was in terms of free agency were not aligned.

  • OilCan2

    Benning is a good D man on a MUCH improved Oiler blue line.

    Schultz got TOP dollar and could never become value for the contract.

    The Oilers are doing GREAT because their value contracts are producing: Gryba, Maroon, Benning, Nurse, Davidson, the whole 4th line,….

  • nuge2drai

    Benning, Sekera, Larsson, Gryba

    Maroon, Lucic, Kassian, Letestu


    All signed by or traded for by Chia.

    Looking forward to seeing what is added on March 1.