The Edmonton Oilers signed restricted free agent Matt Benning to a two-year contract worth $3.8 million. The contract is worth $1.9 million annually with no bonuses. Benning will again be an RFA in 2020.
Benning, a 24-year old St. Albert native has spent two years in the NHL after being signed as a college free agent out of Northern University of the NCAA. Through three seasons in the NCAA, Benning stockpiled 56 points in 110 games.
The right-handed defence man was drafted by the Boston Bruins in the 2012 entry draft but remained unsigned until 2016 where he inked a two-year deal with the Oilers.
In 62 games with Edmonton in his rookie year, Benning showed a lot more promise than expected. He finished with 15 points (3G-12A) and played in 12 playoff games. He had another three assists in the postseason.
In his first season Benning bounced around between the second and third pairing and found success when paired with Kris Russell. He showed that while there were still aspects of his game that were a bit raw he could deliver a physical presence and even when making defensive mistakes, he showed the veteran prowess to learn from those mistakes and adjust.
Going into last season, the expectations may have been a little higher than they should have been. The idea was present that Benning would solidify his spot on the second pairing and possibly even the second powerplay unit.
Those expectations may not have been consistently reached as Benning played in 73 games in 2017-18. He had a mistake filled year early on but finished with six more points than in his rookie season (6G-15A) showing a bit more of an offensive side to his game. He did show improvements in his second season despite those being overshadowed by a disappointing year all-around for the Oilers.
With the small step forward taken by the young D-man he deserved a bit of a raise. It was a bit steeper than I expected going from $925,000 to $1.9 million annually but knowing the Oilers have locked up one of two right-handed defensemen on the roster brings some calm to my mind.
After signing Drake Caggiula to a two-year deal five days prior worth $1.5 million a season Benning’s deal would have to be efficient. The Oilers now have $6.703 million in cap space left to lock up Darnell Nurse and possibly sign RFA Ryan Strome.
The draft is mere days away and Edmonton still holds onto the 10th overall pick. Amidst the Max Domi/Alex Galchenyuk and Mike Hoffman trades this week the rumours surrounding Edmonton and veteran forward Milan Lucic continue to swirl as the Oilers see their cap number slowly decline with every needed contract they hand out.
While Benning’s contract is a bit more expensive than expected, it is the cost of doing business and worth doing in my opinion. He could be poised to take another step forward this year and maybe finally be that right-handed offensive defensemen the Oilers need.