The Nashville Predators just made another significant improvement to their blue line with the addition of Matt Benning. He was selected 175th overall in the 2012 NHL Entry Draft by the Boston Bruins. He then played for the Northeastern University Huskies in the NCAA from 2013-2016, where he played 110 games with 56 points (9 goals and 47 assists) and in 2016, he helped the Huskies win the Hockey East title.
When the Bruins didn’t offer him a contract, he opted to sign a two-year entry-level deal with his hometown team, the Edmonton Oilers (Benning is from St. Albert, Alberta, a short drive from Edmonton). He also has ties to the NHL; his father, Brian Benning, played for five NHL teams, including the Oilers. His uncle is Jim Benning, who played for the Toronto Maple Leafs and Vancouver Canucks and is now the general manager of the Canucks.
He joined the Oilers’ training camp in the 2016-17 season and made the team. However, after sitting as a healthy scratch for opening night, he was sent down to their American Hockey League affiliate, the Bakersfield Condors. His stint with the Condors was short-lived. He only played two games before he was called back up to Edmonton to make his NHL debut on Nov. 1, 2016, against the Maple Leafs. His first NHL goal came on Jan. 7, 2017, against Cory Schneider and the New Jersey Devils.
During his four seasons in Edmonton, he played 248 games with 15 goals and 46 assists. His career-high season came in 2017-18 when he played 73 games with 6 goals, 15 assists, 49 penalty minutes and two game-winning goals.
New Start in Nashville
On Oct. 9, 2020, Benning signed a two-year, $1 million AAV contract with the Predators as a free agent. Predators general manager David Poile had many good things to say about him, including: “Matt’s best years are still ahead of him, and we look forward to those coming in Nashville.”
At 6-foot-1 and 203 pounds, Benning adds size and depth to the Predators blue line. Poile noted that “He has the ability to play against the opposition’s top lines, in addition to getting involved in the offence.” He can handle the puck very well and is known for his transition game. He should provide the Predators with an offensive spark and contribute significantly to the power play.
In the 2019-20 season, the Preds struggled on the power play recording only 33 power-play Goals (PPG), and they had a 17.3 power-play percentage (PP%) in comparison to the best power-play team in the league the Edmonton Oilers, who had a 29.5 PP%. These numbers gave them a 25th overall ranking in the NHL out of 31 teams for their power-play, which is not a favourable number.
Benning could compete against Nashville’s defensive prospects Jeremy Davies, Frederic Allard, and Alexandre Carrier, all currently with the Milwaukee Admirals, the Preds AHL affiliate team. Although these players have been developing in the AHL, Benning has a lot of NHL experience, giving him a significant advantage when competing for a spot on the third pairing.
Nashville made a good decision and chose the player that best met their immediate needs. Although the deal is short, Poile further noted that Benning’s “physicality and skating ability round out our defensive corps nicely.” There were holes in the Preds game that needed to be filled, and selecting Benning filled that hole.
At 26 years old, Benning is an NHL veteran and knows his way around the game. He plays a highly competitive game and is always ready to improve. “I’ve been trying to get up in the rush more, produce a little bit more… But I’m extremely excited to join a D corps that’s spectacular already.”
Future in the Music City
Given the high praise from Poile already, Benning will be given a fantastic opportunity to make a big difference to the Predators’ back end. If the next two seasons go well for him and he is the solution to the defensive needs that the Preds had to fill, I could see him being a permanent member of the Preds lineup and playing a big role in contributing to the team’s future success.