Benning’s father, Brian, played 10 years and 568 games for five different teams in the NHL, while his uncle Jim, now the assistant general manager of the Boston Bruins, played nine seasons in the NHL, racking up 605 career games for the Toronto Maple Leafs and Vancouver Canucks.
Not to mention, Benning’s uncle Craig (Buffalo Sabres) and grandfather, Elmer (Montreal Canadiens), are both scouts in the league.
Matt Benning, when he was drafted by the Bruins in the sixth round of the 2012 draft, launched his voyage that maybe, one day, will allow him to join the rest of his family in the NHL.
“Obviously, it was an honor, especially after them winning the Stanley Cup,” said Benning, an 18-year-old defenseman, of getting drafted by Boston. “When they drafted me I was very happy, very excited. Having my uncle close, my family close, it helps, too.
“My dad played in the NHL for 10 years, my uncle for nine. And then, I have my uncle Craig, who scouts, and my grandpa also scouts, too. A lot of great hockey minds in my family. They’ve helped me throughout the years to get me to where I am now. All I can do is thank them for the opportunities they gave me.”
Benning, who has notched 19 points for the Dubuque Fighting Saints of the USHL (including a goal and two assists since the last Prospect Report) this season, says having his family at his disposal for any kind of hockey advice is invaluable.
“They’ve been through those kind of situations,” Benning said of being able to go to them for guidance. “But, yeah, if I have any questions – we’re really close, so I try to ask my father, or my grandpa, even my uncle. It’s nice to know that you can have some insight from someone so close.”
After attending the Bruins development camp over the summer, Benning was able to begin to understand some of the areas of his game that needed work. The one thing that stood out to him, and the Bruins, was that he had to get stronger.
“Strength and conditioning for sure,” Benning, a native of Edmonton, said bluntly, when asked what he needed to improve. “After the development camp, that was one of the things that I needed to get better at. I knew I had to work on that.
“Obviously, I need to keep on working on everything in my game to get better. I think the USHL has helped me a lot to accomplish some of those goals that I wanted to meet. I think my skating has gotten a lot better, just trying to keep up with my teammates in practice and in games. I think that’s really helped my speed.”
Benning, in his first year with the Fighting Saints of the USHL, says getting acclimated to a new league was tough at first, but he is getting more and more comfortable as the season goes on.
“It’s been a pretty big adjustment,” said the six-foot, 218-pound D-man. “Coming from a different league last year [the Alberta Junior Hockey League], the USHL has a lot of prospects, obviously, and a lot of great hockey players. It’s a fast league and it took me a little while to adjust, but I think I’m doing well right now.
“I’ve learned so much from my coaching staff, other good players in the league, other players on my team. I’m really happy.”
The Fighting Saints (37-9-4) lead the USHL’s East Division by 14 points and Benning, who is fourth among Dubuque’s defenseman with 19 points, is hoping to finish off the season right and build some momentum for when he heads to Northeastern University next fall.
“I’m real excited to finish off the year,” said Benning, who is also a plus-20. “Our team is doing well, and hopefully it can continue on through the playoffs. Hopefully get as far as I can, the Clark Cup is something that we want to win.
“For next year, just [want to] keep on getting better. I’m real excited to go to Northeastern. It’s close to the Bruins organization which will be nice, and, hopefully, [I] have a good year there.”
Northeastern is just a few minutes down the Green Line from TD Garden, allowing Benning to remain close to the Bruins organization while playing for the Huskies.
“I don’t know if it was a part of me committing there,” he acknowledged. “I really liked it there, I felt a part of the team when I went. Obviously, it’s nice to have the Bruins right there to keep an eye on me, so they were all for it.”
Being in Boston will also mean that Benning’s uncle Jim will be around if he ever needs some advice.
“It’s huge,” Benning said of his uncle being close. “Sometimes players are too scared to go and ask – or they don’t know who to ask – what they need to do to get better or stuff like that.
“It’s a real advantage for me because my uncle’s so close there. I’m really fortunate for that.”