Matt Benning had a solid rookie season. He wasn’t expected to be a regular in the lineup, but his consistent play forced the coaching staff to play him more minutes as the season progressed, and Benning never looked overwhelmed.
The 23 year old could play a much larger role this season. Yesterday I spoke to Oscar Klefbom about his summer and the upcoming season and without asking him about Benning, Klefbom brought up his name when discussing Klefbom’s role this season.
“I think he (Benning) will have a breakout year,” said Klefbom.
What are realistic expectations for Benning?
Benning really impressed me last season. He is a very smart player. He moves the puck quickly, accurately and efficiently. He also proved with some solid open ice bodychecks he can be physical when the opportunity arises, and he gained a lot of respect in the dressing room when he came to the defence of Anton Lander and fought Chris Wideman after seeing Wideman deliver multiple crosschecks. Fighting is not Benning’s calling card, far from it, but showing your teammates you aren’t scared and are willing to stand up for a teammate is a great character trait.
What impressed his teammates the most last season was his poise with the puck and his defensive awareness.
He played 925 minutes at 5×5 and spent the most time (33%) with Andrej Sekera (305 minutes). He also played 248 minutes with Darnell Nurse, 149 with Brandon Davidson, 131 with Klefbom and 56 minutes with Kris Russell.
Sekera is on the shelf until late November, at the earliest, and there is a good chance Benning could start the season with Russell.
With Sekera out, Benning will face tougher competition on a nightly basis.
Here’s a quick look at which forwards he played against the most last season from the other seven Western Conference playoff teams.
Anaheim: He played 48 EV minutes vs. the Ducks
Ryan Kesler 18:30
He faced their top two lines the majority of the time.
Calgary: He played just over 26 EV minutes.
His minutes were just over against the top two lines, but split fairly even among their top three lines.
Chicago: He played 46 EV minutes.
He faced their top line, Kane, the third most minutes, and his time was split fairly even between the 2nd and 3rd lines.
Minnesota: He played 49 EV minutes.
Parise had a down season, 42 points, but Granlund, Staal and Koivu were the top three scorers for the Wild.
Nashville: He played 37 EV minutes.
He faced their third line more than the top two. He’ll likely face the top two lines more this season.
San Jose: He played 49 EV minutes.
Pavelski was 10th at 8:42 and Thornton 11th at 8: 09. This was the once case where he rarely faced the top line. In four games he averaged just over two minutes/game against Pavelski’s line. With Sekera out there is a high probability he will face him more this season.
St. Louis: He never played against the Blues. He was a healthy scratch early in the season and was injured in the other two meetings.
Right now Benning is #2 on the depth chart for right defencemen, behind Adam Larsson and ahead of Eric Gryba, with Klefbom, Russell and Nurse the top three on the left side.
Benning will play more this season and likely face an uptick in competition, but I don’t think it will be a massive jump compared to what he faced last season. The larger difference will be his playing partners.
He played 49% of his EV icetime with Sekera and Davidson. Sekera is injured and Davidson is in Montreal.
Russell plays a much different game than Sekera, and Benning will be the puck distributor and puck transporter more regularly. I believe he can excel in those areas.
I think Benning has the best natural offensive and puck moving instincts of the Oilers D corps. He makes the small, subtle plays look easy, which is a great skillset.
He will see the most increase in responsibility and opportunity on the powerplay.
Klefbom had 207 PP time last year and Sekera had 175 minutes. Benning was third among blueliners with 25:56. Klefbom and Sekera were healthy all season and there were the mainstays on the first and second unit. Klefbom will remain on the top unit, as he should, but Benning will replace Sekera and run the second unit.
Benning’s ability to get pucks through from the blueline is infinitely better than The Shinpad Assassin. I love that moniker, and while Sekera is a very good defender, his penchant for having his shot blocked, or firing directly into a forwards shinpads, occurs far too frequently.
Benning had three PP points in 25 minutes last year. Sekera had 11 in 175 minutes and Klefbom had 16 in 207.
I fully expect Benning to hit double digits in PP points this year, because even when Sekera returns to the lineup, I believe Benning will still see some PP time.
With his increased powerplay opportunities, combined with more EV minutes, I expect Benning to produce 25-30 points, and face above average opponents.
Last season he played 56% of his 925 EV minutes with the top two lines.
His puck moving and play making ability make him an obvious fit to play with the Oilers most skilled forwards. His increased icetime won’t lead to a massive jump in playing time percentage with the top lines.
Last year, Klefbom skated for 1406 EV minutes. He played just over 62% with the top two lines.
Benning could see a slight increase in minutes with the Oilers top lines, but it likely will be a 5% increase.
I like Benning’s overall game a lot. He is 23 and he added more strength, not just weight, this off-season.
He was a pleasant surprise in 2016/2017 for the Oilers, and this year I believe he is poised for a big jump in offensive production.
I see him producing 9-19-28 and also playing more important defensive minutes.
What are your expectations for Benning? What excites you? What concerns you?
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