Blueliner has busy off-season, believes denying zone entries will help the Oilers defence re-calibrate in 2018-19
Ahead of the 2018-19 season, EdmontonOilers.com is taking a look back at the '17-18 individual performances of the Oilers in our series 'Roster Redux'
EDMONTON, AB - Despite setting career-highs in games played, goals, assists and points, rearguard Matt Benning - along with the rest of the Oilers defensive contingent - is determined to right the ship this upcoming NHL season after the club's 78-point 2017-18 campaign.
Andrej Sekera's knee injury and Adam Larsson's leave of absence midway through the season thrust Benning into an elevated role. The Edmonton, AB, product played 232 more minutes and averaged 40 more seconds on ice per game in '17-18. Benning ended the year tied with Darnell Nurse for the team-lead in goals by defencemen with six, also tying Oscar Klefbom and Kris Russell for second in points with 21.
The 24-year-old's penchant for big checks became evident in '16-17 and that facet of his game didn't waver. Benning increased his hit total from 111 as a rookie to 149 as a sophomore, also managing to take 42 more shots with the ice time boost.
But by his own admission, Benning wants to see the Oilers blueliners re-calibrate back to the form they had two seasons ago. Speaking at the Syncrude Oil Country Championship during the summer, the 6-foot-1, 204-pound right-shot was specific with how he and his peers could do that.
"I think as a group we just need to be tighter," Benning said. "Statistic-wise, we were the best team in the League at denying entries off the rush. I think we need to get back to that, squeezing plays at the blueline. I thought last year we allowed teams to gain entry into our zone pretty easily.
"I think as a D core, we'll focus on getting back to that point."
A summer of recovery, achievement and marriage could provide Benning with the reset he needs heading into October.
Benning took some time off after cleaning out his locker in April to rehab a nagging injury, then agreed to terms on a two-year contract extension with the Oilers on June 19. Not long after inking the deal, the 175th overall selection in the 2012 NHL Draft married his fiancé. Then, it was right back to training.
"That was a great wedding gift by the Edmonton Oilers and by my agent signing that contract," Benning said with a smile at Oilers Hockey School in July. "I'm really excited to be here for another two years. We had a great time on the weekend following that at the wedding. A lot of teammates came back for that to show support for me and my wife."
But all the bubbly in the world wouldn't be enough to wipe the palette clean after the down season.
"We have a bitter taste in our mouths not making the playoffs this year," he added. "We're all itching to get back there, so putting in the extra work is what a lot of us are doing."
Benning said he's been working on and off the ice more than he normally would during the downtime. The Oilers will experience an unusual start to the season, beginning it overseas in Europe against the New Jersey Devils on Oct. 6 in Gothenburg, Sweden.
"For me, it's been training five days a week and skating three to four times a week," Benning said.
"I'm looking to come into camp a little bit more prepared. I've been skating a lot more and working just as hard, if not harder than last year."
And while there are variables to endure every season, Benning is determined the club can bounce back.
"You can't control injuries, you can't control what happens outside of the rink but guys will be looking for an opportunity to step up this year," he said.