Now that P.K. Subban has reached the NHL level, the most talked about North American born defensive prospect in the Montreal Canadiens organization seems to be Mac Bennett.
The 20-year-old Rhode Islander moves up four spots from this time last year.
After playing at the famed Hotchkiss High School in CT, he was taken 79th overall by the Canadiens during the 2009 NHL Entry Draft.
After a season with Cedar Rapids (USHL) he joined Red Berenson's Wolverine squad at the University of Michigan. One of his teammates on the blue line is another Habs prospect, Greg Pateryn.
"He has made significant progress during the first year and we could see a huge change between his first and last game," said Greg Pateryn in a July 2011 article by Marc-Antoine Godin of La Presse. "He's a very good skater, he handles the puck well and when he carries it, he flies on the ice. "I'm a defensive defenseman, while Mac is taking care of the attack. He could take risks, knowing that I would support him behind, "
In his rookie season, Bennett missed a dozen games, but quickly made a name for himself. "There was an adjustment period, but after Christmas I was able to secure my place on the team," he said."It was all a matter of trust. The more I played, the more I was more comfortable. "
Bennett and the Wolverines went to the final of the NCAA Frozen Four, falling to Minnesota-Duluth 3-2 in OT.
"It's somewhat rare for a freshman defenceman to become a regular at a big NCAA university," said HabsWorlds' Brian LaRose in his Top 25 voting assessment. "but he did just that last season at Michigan."
Bennett, in a 2009 interview with McKeen's Magazine, said he grew up idolizing of former Habs defenseman Mathieu Schneider. but these days patterns his game after Washington Capitals defenseman Mike Green.
Strengths: A very mobile and offensively gifted defenseman. His awareness and vision have allowed his adaptation to the NCAA level to not miss a stride. His skating and puck moving ability should make eventually win him a job as a rearguard in the NHL.
Chris Boucher did a scouting analysis of bot Bennett and Pateryn in a pair of Michigan games vs. Ferris State and Miami. On both occasions he noted Bennett's ability to win puck battles effectively in the offensive zone.
Bennett also carries a tremendous hockey pedigree. His father Jim was an Ivy League star with Brown, and was drafted by the Atlanta Flames (133rd) in 1977. Three of Mac's uncles are former NHLers Curt Bennett (first American-bred 30 goal scorer in the NHL), Bill Bennett, and Harvey Bennett, Jr. Another uncle, John, played in the WHA.
"I think it's a great accomplishment to have so many of your uncles play at some level of professional hockey," Mac Bennett told TSN at the 2009 Draft. "Hopefully I can continue that tradition."
His grandfather, Harvey Sr. was a longtime AHL goaltender who played one NHL season with the Boston Bruins. He is part of hockey history for being the goalie who gave up Maurice Richard's 50th goal in game 50 of the 1944-45 season.
Weaknesses: Bennett's defensive game is getting better at Michigan, but as LaRose said, "his development curve will be relatively steep, so patience is required." Robert Rice agreed with LaRose, also noting his stature at 5'11" will make him a long term project.
Chris Boucher notes in his analysis that Bennett can fare well in the neutral zone, thanks to his speed, but loses the majority of his defensive zone battles. Most of this is attributed to chasing pucks into the zone and skating into mistakes.
"I compare guys like him to Bouillon who is a fireplug," The Montreal Gazette told EOTP. "He improved over the season at Michigan and will have a few years to get stronger. I suspect he won't be one of those guys who break Red Berenson's heart by leaving early."
Bennett knows that he can compensate for his lack of size. "Hopefully, I get that (height) gene from my uncles, but with the way the game has changed and the need for quick defensemen today, it wouldn't be too bad to end up like my dad," Bennett said in a 2009 interview with NHL.com.
"When I was a lot younger, my dad would tell me to take the puck and skate and I've been able to do that as a defenseman. He stressed that puck-moving defensemen come at a premium and you can actually see that more and more with the way the game is now played."
Analysis: There's no question that Mac Bennett will be a top-four defenseman in the NHL, Just be patient folks and he'll get there, If his rookie season at Michigan is any indication, that learning curve is underway. When looking at it, the main flaw for P.K. Subban, climbing the Habs ladder, was his d-zone play, so let's give him time.
|#18 Brendon Nash||#17 Mac Bennett||#16 Brock Trotter|