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GENE'S BLOG: Welcome Matt

In his latest blog, Gene Principe talks about the impact of Matthew Benning early in his NHL career

by Gene Principe / Special to

In a summer of change where Peter Chiarelli did a partial overhaul of the team, one move involved a trade on defence. It was hard to see past the swap with New Jersey that landed Edmonton Adam Larsson. A top-end, dependable, stay-at-home blueliner built in a shutdown mode. It was a big move and a noticeable one. A much less talked about decision by the general manager was the choice to sign Matthew Benning.

The move would have received some notoriety because Chiarelli was taking a step into the past to bolster the future. Benning was a sixth round pick of the current GM when he held that same position with Boston in 2012. Now four years later and the unrestricted free agent was coming home after signing a two-year deal with the Oilers. Home was St. Albert but Spruce Grove is where Matthew played before embarking on a short stay in the USHL and eventually his move to the NCAA. Now he's in the NHL maybe even faster than the defenceman expected.

It wasn't supposed to be like this or maybe planned this way but records are made to be broken and plans are sometimes made to be changed. After about as short a stay as you can have in the minors (two games), Benning was called up and is still up with the big club. Injuries were the reason why but considering he is the freshest face among the crop of young 20-something blueliners that Edmonton has in their system it's a compliment he got the call. The Oilers had other choices but decided on the kid with the familiar last name.

With Edmonton getting set to take on one member from the first family of hockey, the Sutters, on Thursday night the Bennings also can lay claim to being a hockey family. We start with Elmer who has scouted with Montreal for four decades. So the story goes he was one of those that pushed Montreal to select Carey Price 5th overall in 2005. He has an eye for talent and some it could be seen in his own household. Two of three boys made it to the NHL. The one that didn't was Mark, Matthew's uncle, who was at the game in Anaheim. He's a former all-American who started at Notre Dame and transferred to Harvard. He played two years overseas before retiring and is attending Stanford's school of business. Older brother Jim, the current Vancouver GM, was drafted sixth in 1981 by Toronto. He played nine seasons in the NHL which is just one short of the baby in the family Brian who is also Matthew's dad. He was selected by St. Louis and made the all-rookie team after a 49-point season with the Blues. One stop, albeit a brief one, was in Edmonton and now it's his son's turn to play for the Oilers.

I first met Matthew at the Penticton Young Stars tournament and we had a common topic of conversation because I went to high school with his dad (insert the I feel old moment here). He struck me as bright and confident. Now just short of hitting double digits in NHL games, that's what I see on the ice. He's still learning and will for a long time but not many sixth-round picks make such a quick jump to the NHL. Not an easy thing to do with friends and family watching your every move. He's acquitted himself quite nicely in a short time. The Oilers wanted to strengthen their blueline and they have with Benning being a part of that movement. He hasn't yet scored his first goal but he has achieved one. Welcome Matt to the NHL.

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