In a span of 12 months, Jordie Benn went from unheralded third pairing defender with upside to someone needing to rebound to maintain his spot with the Montreal Canadiens.
But the fact of the matter is, Benn didn’t change much between 2016-17 when he was viewed as a nice addition to the lineup and 2017-18 when most viewed him as a disappointment.
His numbers were similar across the board. There was somewhat of a drop in numbers, but remember that the 2016-17 numbers are based on 13 regular season games, the amount he played with Montreal.
The change in the numbers are really inconsequential. But if you look deeper, you start to see why opinions of Benn have changed.
Benn played most of his time as a Canadien in 2016-17 with Nathan Beaulieu. Beaulieu was responsible for 67% of the time Benn took to the ice in his first season with the team. This season, however, he played at least 100 minutes at even strength with six different players with his partners ranging from Shea Weber to Brett Lernout.
Sorted by 5v5 ice time, minimum 100 minutes
It didn’t help the perception of Benn that his best performances in terms of puck possession just happened to end with the worst goal differential. The team controlled over 56% of high danger scoring chances when he was on the ice with Shea Weber and Jeff Petry but the team was massively outscored.
A lot of the time with Weber was while the Canadiens were struggling with low shooting percentages and low save percentages at the beginning of the season.
Benn actually performed well when paired with better partners. His biggest struggles were with Joe Morrow (who he played the most time with) and with Brett Lernout. In all likelihood, Benn would not play with that calibre of player this season if the Canadiens are healthy.
What the numbers tell us is that Benn really didn’t perform all that different from 2016-17 to 2017-18. He even played well with Weber, and that combination was just hit with bad luck.
But we need to realize what Benn is this: He’s a perfectly fine depth defenceman who won’t make any high calibre defenceman you play him with worse. But while Weber didn’t play much different without Benn, he also didn’t perform better with him. Benn was a perfectly average partner for him, and while that’s fine in a pinch, you’d want your top defenceman to have a partner who makes him better.
Benn was also the team’s best defenceman with 100 minutes on the penalty kill. The team allowed less high danger chances when he was on the ice than any other defenceman.
Last year, going into the pre-season, people were wondering whether Benn should be on the top pairing with Shea Weber. Now, going into free agency, many people don’t have him among the team’s top six defencemen.
In truth, the answer is somewhere in between. He deserves to be in the NHL. However, his future with the Canadiens is very much tied to how the team wants to deal with Victor Mete and Noah Juulsen. If the team wants them to be at the NHL level, Benn may find himself as the seventh defenceman, traded, or placed on waivers.
If the team wants to use their waiver eligibility to put them in the American Hockey League without risking losing somebody, then Benn can step in at the NHL level and will likely be a fine defenceman playing with someone like Weber, or Petry, or Karl Alzner.
In terms of a depth defenceman, you could do much worse. Just don’t expect much more.