Welcome back to Top Shelf Prospects, the daily column that brings you the next crop of professional hockey players. Each day I will bring you a new player profile or topical article in the lead-up to the 2020 NHL Draft. Be sure to bookmark the site, follow me on Twitter, and spread the word for the site that will bring you analytical and critical profiles and scouting reports! Last Word On Hockey Prospects is your new headquarters for everything “NHL Draft”! We have a complete listing of our draft articles here. Today we look at Michael Benning.
Part of hockey royalty, Michael Benning‘s grandfather, Elmer Benning was a long-time scout for the Montreal Canadiens. His father, Brian Benning was a second-round pick of the St. Louis Blues in 1984 and played over 500 NHL games. His uncle, Jim Benning was a Toronto Maple Leafs first-round pick and played over 600 games. He is the general manager of the Vancouver Canucks. His brother, Matt Benning plays for the Edmonton Oilers.
Benning opted to play for the Sherwood Park Crusaders in the AJHL to keep his college options open. He is committed to playing for the University of Denver Pioneers next season. Benning has been dominant this year. He put up 12 goals and 63 assists for 75 points in 54 games. Benning had the most points by a defenceman in the AJHL. He was also named the AJHL and CJHL’s Most Outstanding Defenceman and a league All-Star. Benning played for Team Canada West at the WJAC. Last season, Benning scored 10 goals and 51 assists for 61 points in 60 games. He added nine points in 12 playoff games. It was the most points by an AJHL defenceman and won him the league’s Rookie of the Year award.
Michael Benning Scouting Report
Defence — shoots Right
Born January 5th, 2002 — St. Albert, Alberta
Height 5’10” — Weight 177 lbs [178 cm/80 kg]
Benning is a very good skater. While he isn’t an absolute speedster, he still has good speed in both directions. He is more quick than fast though. Benning has an explosive first step. He also has very good acceleration in both directions. As hockey is a game that is more about short races, rather than long 200-foot ones, this quickness serves him well at both ends of the ice. Benning also has quick feet, giving him good lateral agility. He has excellent edgework and pivots. Benning makes quick turns. He can transition smoothly from offence to defence. He is also strong on his skates for his size, fighting through checks and winning battles along the boards and in front of the net.
Benning is a strong puck-handler. He can avoid forecheckers and get the puck up the ice in transition quickly. Benning is able to make a smart pass up the ice to get things going and can also hit a long breakaway pass if a forward gets behind the defence. Benning is also able to lead the rush, carrying it through the neutral zone. By combining his slick hands and his skating he finds the moves to make effective zone entries. Benning can also quarterback the play from the point. His lateral movement and dangles open up passing lanes. He sees the ice well and can set up teammates for a scoring chance. Benning also makes good decisions about when to pinch at the blue line to create more offence.
Benning could stand to work on his shot from the point. His slap shot has a tendency to be high and a bit wild. He is more effective when he sneaks down from the point and uses a wrist shot or a snapshot at the top of the circles. These feature quick releases and are more accurate. Benning can keep them low and give teammates the chance to get tips or rebounds. His lateral agility allows him to open shooting lanes and get the puck past defenders. His wrist shot is also effective when he joins the rush as a trailer.
Benning’s defensive game is based on his strong skating and his smarts. He maintains good gap control and forces attackers to the outside, away from prime shooting areas. His lateral agility also allows him to stay between his man and the net. With solid positioning away from the puck, he also cuts down passing lanes. He anticipates plays well and seems to be in the right position often. He also is willing to battle on the boards and in front of the net, but his lack of size can be an issue here. Benning will need to bulk up and get stronger to play this game at the pro level. His ability to retrieve loose pucks and start the transition game quickly is an asset as it helps his team maintain possession as well as limiting the opponent’s zone time.
Projection and Comparison
Benning might be a little undersized, but he overcomes that through his skating and his smarts. He could develop into a top-four defenceman who can quarterback a power play. The questions will remain due to his lack of size and the fact that he hasn’t played against high-level competition yet. Of course, that will change when he joins the University of Denver next season. This will also give Benning the opportunity to add muscle to his frame due to the less intense college schedule. If he can translate his game into the pro ranks, he could be a real draft steal. His game is reminiscent of Cale Makar, however, this is a stylistic comparison only and not one based on skill and ability.
The following is a compilation of some of the highlight packages and features of Michael Benning that are available on youtube.
Check back tomorrow for the next prospect on our draft board.
Michael Benning Main Photo:
— Denver Hockey (@DU_Hockey) May 8, 2020