Oilers' Benning likely to sit out game vs. Senators


Edmonton Oilers Matt Benning during practice on Sept. 28, 2017 in Edmonton.

Edmonton Oilers Matt Benning during practice on Sept. 28, 2017 in Edmonton.

Photograph by: Greg Southam, Edmonton Journal

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The most likeable thing about Matt Benning is his brutal honesty.

The Edmonton Oilers defenceman comes with a critical eye, so there’s no tap-dancing or tossing out the royal, ‘we have to be better as a team’ answer when asked how he’s playing.

“Against Calgary, I had spurts of a good game, but the last two games (Vancouver and Winnipeg) were very bad,” said Benning, who hasn’t been as forceful with his checking and has shown too much hesitancy, giving opposing players too much room.

That’s the opposite of his rookie NHL season, when he was a revelation coming out of college. Benning stepped into the Oilers lineup from Northeastern University in Boston last year and played an average of 16 and-a-half minutes per game.

Do we forget he’s played only 65 regular-season games and another 13 in the playoffs?

“I don’t know. There are no excuses. By now, I know how to play. Part of it’s confidence but I haven’t been good so far,” said Benning, who will likely be a healthy scratch against the Ottawa Senators on Saturday (8 p.m.) at Rogers Place, with Yohann Auvitu drawing into the lineup instead for his first game with the Oilers.

Benning was basically a third-pairing defenceman in 2016-17 with Darnell Nurse, but with injuries, he moved into the second pairing. He was very sound in the playoff pressure cooker against the San Jose Sharks and the Anaheim Ducks, but his training camp this fall was very average and it’s carried over to regular season.

He knows what he has to do, but there’s walking the walk to go with talking the talk.

“Show up to practice with your hard hat on, work hard, skate hard, watch video with the coaches, work with my teammates to see if there’s any areas that they notice,” said Benning. “Sometimes, it’s hard for me to recognize. Obviously, there are a lot of areas I need to improve on.”

Benning can also lean on his dad Brian, of course. He played 568 NHL games on the blue line.

“He has a lot of good advice. He said to show up the rink, practice hard like it’s a game because that’s how you’re being evaluated,” said Benning. “He said there’s lots of times when you’ll have bad games, players go through slumps … the key is getting out of it as fast as you can.”

Nurse looks like he’ll be in the second pairing with Russell against Ottawa while Auvitu will play on the third pairing alongside Eric Gryba.

“He’s (Nurse) graduating up because somebody is graduating down,” said Oilers coach Todd McLellan, who likes what he sees from Nurse, especially his skating. He can get the puck out of trouble. “His ability to transport the puck through the neutral zone has been fairly good. I’d like to see more come off of it.

“He skates well to that point (other blue line) but then you have to make some rapid decisions, you have to have some outlets. But it’s what the other four players on our team are giving Darnell. Where does the puck end up? Are you willing to take the shot to create for your teammates or make a play? Just a matter of getting more out of his rushes.”

As for Benning, it looks like too much, too soon for the 23-year-old.

Quite possibly, too much was expected of Benning when Andrej Sekera tore up his knee against the Ducks in the playoffs last spring. Just slide him into the second defence pairing with Russell and away we go.

“We still view Matt as a young defenceman … Darnell has been in that lap as well,” said McLellan. “It takes a long time to perfect your craft at the blue line. Some people in the hockey world say it takes over 300 NHL games. They’ve both got a lot of improvement ahead, but so are guys who’ve played 700 games. We’re all in it to get better.”

How does Benning get better?

Video? Teaching?

Yes and yes.

“It comes down to the stuff on the ice, too (games),” said McLellan.

E-mail: jmatheson@postmedia.com

On Twitter: @NHLbyMatty

Edmonton Oilers Matt Benning during practice on Sept. 28, 2017 in Edmonton.

Edmonton Oilers Matt Benning during practice on Sept. 28, 2017 in Edmonton.

Photograph by: Greg Southam, Edmonton Journal

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