Maple Leafs Finding Great Value With Jordie Benn

When the Toronto Maple Leafs signed Jordie Benn in the offseason, many thought that he was going to be a depth defender rotating in on the blue line.

Given how the Maple Leafs are dealing with a difficult situation with Jake Muzzin and the concerns surrounding his cervical spine injury, Benn has been able to get into the lineup. While the depth on defense is becoming a concern with their overall performance, Benn’s play has become a welcoming addition. For the most part, he’s been able to do what Muzzin does as he plays a very similar style. 

Jordie Benn Toronto Maple Leafs
Jordie Benn, Toronto Maple Leafs (Photo by Kevin Sousa/NHLI via Getty Images)

While Benn isn’t the permanent fix to their defensive situation, general manager Kyle Dubas definitely needs to explore the trade market and increase their depth. Though, you can’t help but be impressed with Benn’s play as he has gone from depth signing to being a critical role player who provides some stability on the backend. 

Joining the Offense

If there’s one thing that has stood out the most in Benn’s game, it’s his offensive tendencies and ability to get involved on the attack. This may have caught everyone off guard given how he’s viewed as a physical, stay-at-home defender throughout his whole career. 

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Through three games this season, head coach Sheldon Keefe seems to be a believer in Benn on the top pair as he’s having a productive season early on with the Maple Leafs with his offensive contributions. He scored the game-winning goal in his season debut against the Vancouver Canucks and added an assist on John Tavares’ 400th career goal against the Pittsburgh Penguins. Two points in three games is a great start to the season where he missed time due to a groin injury

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While he’s found the score sheet, his underlying numbers are just as impressive. In a very small sample size, Benn is posting career bests in Corsi for percentage of his career (57.14), goals for percentage (66.67) and high danger chances for percentage (57.14). Even last year with the Minnesota Wild, he was a major factor against elite competition. Despite only facing them just over 27% of the time, he had a strong 57.1 GF%. Whether these numbers are sustainable or not remains to be seen, but the fact that he’s generating and contributing is a great sign for a defense that has struggled to put up points. 

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Even Benn’s overall vision and awareness has captivated many. Sometimes the Maple Leafs defense hesitates with their decision-making offensively, but Benn is playing with a high level of pace and displaying his skillset. Benn is doing a great job at joining the rush, making timely pinches and crisp passes to his teammates. At 35 years old, he has great speed for a defender of his skill type to keep up with the competition. 

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Though the ability to join the offense did cost him against the New Jersey Devils as he turned the puck over at the offensive blue line leading to Nico Hischier’s goal. While he has made some smart decisions and reads in the offensive zone, he did try to do too much in a high traffic area, resulting in a turnover. That proved costly, but he did display the speed that we have seen to come back and attempt to close the gap while taking the passing lane away.

Overall, Benn has been providing some underrated offense for the Maple Leafs despite not being known as an offensive type of player. Even if this quick start offensively doesn’t last long, it’s great to see that kind of contribution from one of the players that you wouldn’t expect.

Shutting Things Down

This is where Benn has started to provide the stability to a Maple Leafs team where the defense has been longing for consistency this season. Especially with Muzzin’s long-term absence. 

When Benn was signed, he was brought in to be an anchor in a depth role to clear the traffic in front of the net and get into the shooting lanes. Through three games, he has seven blocked shots and even his 11 hits are probably going to continue to increase. That ability to provide a strong defensive presence on the back end is what the Maple Leafs need. And while, the consistency needs to be evident from everyone, Benn is leading the way to try and turn things around. 

Jordie Benn Minnesota Wild
Former Minnesota Wild, Jordie Benn (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

With Benn providing a strong net front presence to clear bodies and pucks out, it will be beneficial to the Maple Leafs in their own zone. So far this season, Benn has a respectful expected goal against of 1.89. As we saw during the game against the Penguins, Benn doesn’t panic under pressure when the play collapses down low in front of the net when there’s a scramble.

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In that game, Benn did a great job to negate opportunities with his defensive play and stick to deny the puck from going in the net. Even when there was a loose puck, Benn quickly located the puck and made sure there wasn’t going to be a Penguin player finding it for an easy tap-in goal. 

The Maple Leafs defense can learn a thing or two from Benn as he has that mentality to prioritize defense when it needs to be. Having that refined two-way game is proving to be a major addition to the team within their own end.

Benn Providing Value

Despite missing two key names on the blue line, Benn’s play is giving the team significant value and depth as he’s filling the void until a more permanent option can be brought in. 

Even if the Maple Leafs do make a move to bring in another defender, Benn may be holding down a spot on the roster as his play has proven to be impactful. Even if it’s not in the top-four, he’ll definitely be a mainstay as a bottom-three defender. 

Benn’s ability to play either side gives Keefe options and different combinations. Given how the defense likes to rush a lot, Benn has the defensive presence and mindset to lock things down. From his defensive strengths to being an underrated offensive driver, Benn continues to prove his worth as an important player on this team.

Statistics from Natural Stat Trick, Puck IQ and NHL.

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