Matt Benning was one of Mike Grier’s first signings last season, and he looks to be a very underrated signing by Grier. Benning signed a four-year deal worth $5 million ($1.25m AAV) on the first day of free agency in 2021. In his first season with the San Jose Sharks, Benning had a career-high in points (24) and assists (23) while playing a touch under 20 minutes a night. Before his time with San Jose, Benning played two seasons with the Nashville Predators, where he played 16:20 a night and established himself as a third-pairing player.
With the Sharks, Benning got a chance to show off his solid defense. His time on ice jumped by nearly three minutes a night, and Benning was a good defensive player for the Sharks. Benning also led all the Sharks on penalty kill minutes last season with 217 minutes. Benning was also the quarterback on the second power play unit, when Erik Karlsson needed a breather. While it’s probably not the role best suited for Benning’s skill set. He did try his best.
Where does Benning fit?
Matt Benning enters the season as the Sharks’ best right handed defenseman. With Karlsson now in Pittsburgh, more will be asked of Benning and all the other defensemen to help make up the offense. With Karlsson and his 101 points gone, Benning must be a part of the offense by committee approach that the Sharks will take on the blue line. With no clear answers to take over Karlsson’s role, the Sharks will need a new approach from the blue line. Benning and the rest of the Sharks defense need to continue to play their own games and not force the issues. No one should expect Benning to be Karlsson.
What David Quinn does with the power play is one of the underlying questions heading into training camp, with no clear answer to be the power play quarterback and Benning’s role as the second unit power play last season. He could be in line to see a huge increase in his workload and potentially an increase in production playing with better players on the power play. If Benning is playing more on the power play, it might be best suited to decrease his role on the penalty kill to keep him around 20 minutes a night. The addition of Kyle Burroughs could help take the load off of Benning this season on the penalty kill.
What’s next for Benning?
Last season, Benning played 56% of his even strength minutes with Marc-Edouard Vlasic. When playing together, they had a 46.1 CF% and 29 goals for and 31 goals against. Benning should be expected to see more tough minutes this season as the Sharks look to fill the void left by Karlsson. For the long term, Benning has a chance to be a very shrewd signing by Grier as he will be playing top-four minutes on a team-friendly deal. With three years left on his deal, don’t expect another team to call for his services this season.
Bold Prediction: Benning averages 22 minutes a night and reaches 30 points on the year.