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Preview/Lines #57: Matt Benning’s Sneaky Success

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Credit: Hockey Shots/Dean Tait

Matt Benning has contributed in perhaps surprising ways to the San Jose Sharks.

Through just 54 games, Benning has tied his career-high of 21 points, which he set in 2017-18 with the Edmonton Oilers. That’s second among Sharks defensemen, behind Norris Trophy frontrunner Erik Karlsson.

“Everybody wants to contribute offensively,” Benning told San Jose Hockey Now last month. “It is a hard league to contribute offensively. It’s just a lot about getting pucks on net. Our forwards have done a really good job at getting to the net and getting sticks on the tips. It’s my job to get it through, and their job is to tip. [There’s always] a couple of one-off plays where guys are open.”

Benning has also been a regular on the Sharks power play, for the first time since 2018-19 in Edmonton. He’s now the second-unit quarterback behind Karlsson.

“In Nashville, they had other offensive defensemen, and just the role that I was in, it was a PK, shutdown [role], which I was totally fine with,” Benning explained, about his job with the Nashville Predators, where he played from 2020 to 2022. “Here, there’s an opportunity for me to jump in on the second power play and just try to be simple and move pucks.”

Benning is doing more than being simple though, case in point this New Year’s Eve stretch pass to Alexander Barabanov:

Benning actually only has one point on the man advantage this season, a testament to his even-strength offensive production.

Per Natural Stat Trick, he’s fifth among NHL defensemen with 1.3 Assists Per 60 (out of 189, 400+ 5-on-5 minutes), ahead of more celebrated offensive defensemen like Quinn Hughes, Roman Josi, and Dougie Hamilton. And he’s not feasting just on secondary helpers — he’s third among all blueliners at 0.72 Primary Assists Per 60.

No one is mistaking Benning for ex-teammate Josi offensively, but clearly, the 2012 sixth-round pick has been better than everybody expected in that department.

Well, everybody except maybe head coach David Quinn, and GM Mike Grier, who received some flak for inking Benning to a four-year, $5 million contract.

“He’s got good vision. He is a solid defender, a hard defender, and he’s a good player in this league,” Quinn said of Benning, who’s playing over 19 minutes a night, third-most among Sharks rearguards after Karlsson and Mario Ferraro. “He brings a lot to the table for us. I’m not surprised.”

Sharks Coveted Benning “Right Out of Gate” During Free Agency

San Jose Sharks (17-28-11)

Meier-Hertl-Labanc
Eyssimont-Couture-Barabanov
Bonino-Sturm-Gregor
Lindblom-Lorentz-Svechnikov

Harrington-Karlsson
Vlasic-Benning
Ferraro-MacDonald

Kahkonen

Buffalo Sabres (27-22-4)

Projected by NHL.com:

Jeff Skinner — Tage Thompson — Alex Tuch
JJ Peterka — Dylan Cozens — Victor Olofsson
Casey Mittelstadt — Peyton Krebs — Jack Quinn
Zemgus Girgensons — Tyson Jost — Kyle Okposo

Rasmus Dahlin — Henri Jokiharju
Mattias Samuelsson — Owen Power
Kale Clague — Ilya Lyubushkin

Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen

Where to Watch

The San Jose Sharks will take on the Buffalo Sabres at 7:30 PM PST at SAP Center. Watch it live on NBC Sports California. Listen to it on the Sharks Audio Network.

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