With Andrej Sekera on the shelf, the Edmonton Oilers decided to put faith in the pieces they already have to fill the void.
So, coming into this season, the Oilers called upon sophomore and former NCAA blueliner Matt Benning to make the jump to the top four. Edmonton put him on the second pairing alongside Kris Russell, and since then, he has been taking on more responsibility and trying to prove his top-four worth.
However, looking at the Oilers defence, the team is struggling in many different areas. Through 10 games this season, Edmonton has surrendered an average of 3.3 goals per game, the ninth-worst GA/G in the league. The defence has also surrendered 309 shots against so far this season.
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Breakdown of Benning’s Game
Looking at Benning’s game, he isn’t playing poor hockey. Through seven games, he has a game-winning goal and 15 shots on goal, and he has also racked up 14 hits, four blocks and four PIM. He is showing more puck-moving ability and offensive acumen, and that can be beneficial for the Oilers, especially with their offence struggling to produce of late.
However, his possession metrics show that he has struggled to take good care of the puck this season; he has eight giveaways for just two takeaways, and his relative Corsi sits at a -4.3. The 23-year-old has been caught making mistakes in his own zone, and he cannot maintain possession nor can he really be dominant or confident with the puck. And as an offensive defenceman, this can be an issue moving forward.
Benning does make up for his mistakes and turnovers by being aggressive and physical on the backcheck. However, while the 6-foot-1, 204-pound blueliner can throw his weight around, there are instances where he cannot win battles for the puck or outplay his opponents.
He averages around 16 minutes of ice time per night, which is just as much ice time as he averaged per game last season. Still, as he adjusts to a role on the top four, he could experience more time and responsibility. But if he does earn more minutes, he must step up to the plate and prove that he deserves a bigger role, and it all starts with taking better care of the puck and continuing to contribute more offence.