2019-20 Team: Sherwood Park Crusaders – AJHL
Date of Birth: Jan. 05, 2002
Place of Birth: St. Albert, AB, Canada
Ht: 5-foot-10 Wt: 174 pounds
NHL Draft Eligibility: 2020 first-year eligible
- NHL Central Scouting: 57th (among NA Skaters)
- Steve Kournianos, The Draft Analyst: 89th
- Future Considerations: 74th
- Josh Bell’s February Rankings: 69th
- Larry Fisher’s Top 350 for April: 69th
- Andrew Forbes Top 217 for March: 62nd
The NHL bloodlines run strong for Sherwood Park Crusaders defenseman Michael Benning. The brother of Edmonton Oilers’ defenseman Matt Benning and nephew of Vancouver Canucks’ general manager Jim Benning, he certainly has family pedigree in his favor. Deciding to keep his NCAA options open, Benning chose to remain in the Alberta Junior Hockey League (AJHL) for his draft year.
In his rookie season, he posted 61 points in 60 games played which tied him for the league lead in points by a defenseman. He followed that up with 75 points in 54 games played this past season, winning the AJHL and CJHL’s Most Outstanding Defenceman award.
The key attribute to Benning’s game is his offensive ability. He’s a very smart puck-handler and gets the puck up ice quickly. His lateral movement and play-making ability allow him to efficiently quarterback the power play. He sees the ice extremely well and can hit forwards on the breakaway pass with consistency.
Benning might not have elite straight-line speed but he has an excellent first step and uses his quickness to create separation early. He falls into that category where he is criticized for not skating well enough for his size. I’m not a huge fan of that criticism for smaller players and I think he more than makes up for it with his lateral agility and his ability to read plays at such a high level.
His shot is an underrated weapon in his arsenal. It may not be the quickest release or most accurate shot among his peers, but he has a hard slapshot that he can utilize on the power play and his wrist shot is good enough that he can be a threat off the rush. He’ll want to work on his accuracy on the one-timer to be a dual-threat on the power play.
Defensively he gets by on his above-average skating and a high hockey IQ. He rarely makes mistakes with the puck and anticipates the play well. Thanks to above average awareness and solid positioning he’s able to break up plays efficiently and is usually in the right position from the start. He also isn’t afraid to engage in puck battles. Unfortunately, size becomes a bit of an issue at times being only 5-foot-10, so he’ll need to bulk up a bit to succeed at the next level.
Other THW Draft Profiles:
Michael Benning – NHL Draft Projection
Benning is loved by some and written off by others. Maybe that’s a bit harsh, but quality of competition always comes into play for AJHL prospects and is likely why he’s ranked anywhere from 50 to 100 depending who you ask. On average, he projects as a third-round pick and could maybe squeak into the late second round if a team really loves him. Teams that are looking for a talented offensive defenseman will have a nice option after some of the bigger names like Drysdale and Cormier go.
“Following in the steps of Cale Makar, Benning is playing his draft year in the AJHL and will likely improve on the point-per-game pace that he set last year. The dynamic blueliner is the modern-day defender that every team craves. He skates well, moves the puck up the ice and his game is quite good in transition. He is shifty through the neutral zone and does a good job of evading defenders as he walks the blue line. He does a good job of distributing the puck from the point. He opens up passing lanes by skating the blueline and makes quick decisions when filtering the puck down towards the front of the net. He is slight at just 5-foot-9 and 170 pounds but the Sherwood Park Crusader will likely be among the best defencemen on the AJHL circuit. With a strong draft year, Benning could be a massive riser throughout the year. Ranked anywhere between 50 and 100 on early-season publications, Benning has the potential to break into the first round by seasons end.” – Tony Ferrari, DobberProspects
“A mobile, two-way defender that NHL teams covet. He’s a good skater and puckhandler who likes to carry the puck out. He keeps his head up high, looking for the right pass up and out. He sometimes tries to carry it too far, causing a turnover in the neutral zone. However, there are also times where this led to a great play. On one shift, he took it up just past the opponents’ blue line, showing his creativity by deking around a defender before firing a perfect pass to his teammate. This led to a breakaway goal, and one of his three assists on the night. That deke he used showed up numerous times through the game, just a simple fake one way and explodes around the defender the other way. He plays big minutes, seeming to always be on the ice. He’s extremely versatile, playing in all situations for the Crusaders. He likes to shoot, utilizing his slap shot often after getting open on the point, but his passing is exceptional. In his own end, Benning is solid. On the rush, he forces defenders to the outside, rubbing them off the puck or forcing them to dump it in. If you’re battling him along the boards, expect to lose. He almost always comes out with the puck.” – Josh Bell, The Hockey Writers
- Hockey IQ
- Puck Control/Hands
- Passing and vision
Under Construction (Improvements to Make)
- Top Speed
- Needs to Add Strength
The comparison with Cale Makar is hard to ignore, and while he won’t likely reach the same heights, he’s still got the ability to be a second-pairing defenseman in the NHL. Benning projects as a power-play quarterback and should slot in as a top-four defenseman. He’ll have a lot to prove at the University of Denver next season.
Risk – 2.5/5, Reward – 4.5/5
Fantasy Hockey Potential
Offence – 9/10, Defence – 7/10
Benning won the AJHL and CJHL Most Outstanding Defenseman awards for the 2019-20 season.
- Interview: AJHL Bloodlines Part 1 – Michael Benning