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Family matters for Matt Benning

Oilers defense prospect looking to follow father's path to Edmonton, NHL

by Derek Van Diest / Correspondent

EDMONTON -- Defenseman Matt Benning decided home was the best place to begin his professional hockey career.

The Northeastern University graduate signed a free agent contract with his hometown Edmonton Oilers this summer looking to follow in his father's footsteps. 

Benning's father, Brian, had a short stint with the Oilers in 1993 during his nine-year career as an NHL defenseman. Matt's uncle, Jim, also played in the League and is general manager of the Vancouver Canucks, and Matt's grandfather, Elmer, is an amateur scout for the Montreal Canadiens. 

"It's obviously really exciting, it's a new chapter for me, and I'm really excited to join this organization and be a part of a good group of guys that are trying out for this team," Benning said during Oilers rookie camp. "It's exciting, the Oilers are a great organization, my dad played here and he loved it here."

Benning, 22, an Edmonton product, was selected by the Boston Bruins in the sixth round (No. 175) of the 2012 NHL Draft. He did not sign with Boston and became an unrestricted free agent coming out of college.

After a short courting process, Benning signed a two-year contract with the Oilers on Aug. 27.

"As a young player growing up, you want to play in the NHL and I thought this was the best opportunity for me," Benning said. "Boston has done a lot for me over the years. We obviously couldn't come up with something, but I'm really excited to be here, part of a great organization that I grew up watching."

Benning had 19 points (six goals, 13 assists) in 41 games with Northeastern last season. He is a stay-at-home defenseman very similar to his father, who also played with the St. Louis Blues, Los Angeles Kings, Philadelphia Flyers and Florida Panthers.

"He was excited when I signed here," Benning said. "He knows a lot of the guys around here, but he was excited for me that my dream as a young kid came true. Obviously, there is a big jump to playing with the big club, but I'm excited for the opportunity and for the challenge."

The Oilers hope Benning develops into a steady defenseman and likely will assign him to their American Hockey League affiliate in Bakersfield to begin the season. 

"Talking to some of the [Oilers prospects] like [Braden] Christoffer and [Greg] Chase, they say it's an exciting time," Benning said. "I know a lot of guys around here are from the area and just know playing with them, it should be exciting. I know I might be one of the older guys, but it's still all good players, they all were drafted and they're here for a reason.

"Some guys say when you get up in the higher rank of hockey, it's almost easier to play, because you know where the other guys are. I think it should be fine, I just have to adjust to the speed and the strength of the players and know where I need to be and that type of thing."

If ever in doubt, Benning has a pretty good resource in his father, who always has been his biggest hockey influence.

"Growing up, he would harp on me all the time, 'Just to do this and that,'" Benning said. "At the time, I thought he was being hard on me, but now I understand what kind of game I should be playing. He knows when I make a mistake he lets me know about it, but mostly, he kind of sits in the dark [at the arena] and if I need to ask him any questions, he's there for me."

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