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Photo Credit: © Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

Benn’s versatility and veteran presence integral to Canucks’ improved defence

When the Canucks inked Jordie Benn to a two-year deal on July 1st, it was one of the feel-good stories of the offseason. A Victoria native, Benn became the 59th British Columbia-born player to lace up for the Canucks, the team he grew up idolizing during their run to the Stanley Cup Final in 1994. Gino Odjick, Kirk McLean, and Geoff Courtnall were some of his favourite players, and Benn is actually best friends with Geoff’s son, Justin.

But Jordie Benn is proving that he’s more than just a feel-good story.

Fans have waited a long time for the Canucks to get their hands a third pairing defenceman as defensively sound as Benn. In fact, some recent incarnations likely would have happily taken him in their top four, and on some nights, even on their top pair.

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To say Benn is an improvement over players like Luca Sbisa, Erik Gudbranson, Derrick Pouliot, and Michael Del Zotto, some of whom were mainstays in the Canucks’ top four, is an understatement. He currently has the lowest on-ice goals against/60 of his entire career, has a plus-minus rating of +6 so far this season, and has finished only three games with a negative goal-differential so far this season.

Benn is exactly what the Canucks, now a competitive team, need from a third pairing defenceman. He can kill penalties, but most importantly, his versatility gives them the option to still get looks at some of their younger defencemen.

Although he has played the majority of games on the left side on the Canucks’ third pair alongside Troy Stecher, Benn told me back in September that he’s completely comfortable playing both sides. Some that watched him during his time in Montreal and Dallas have even suggested that he may be more effective on the right side.

“I’ve played on both [sides] my whole career, so there’s no one position that’s more comfortable for me, it’s just wherever the team needs me, I’ll play.”

In the event of an injury to one of the team’s defencemen, the Canucks’ management group would have options when it comes to who they want to call up — no matter what side the injured defenceman were playing on. Thanks to Benn’s versatility, the Canucks can take a merit-based approach to their call-ups on defence – whether that means bringing up recent standout Brogan Rafferty or former fifth overall draft pick Olli Juolevi, once he’s healthy.

Benn has also been a huge part of the Canucks’ penalty kill, which currently ranks 13th in the league. Benn’s former team, the Montreal Canadiens, surely miss having him around, as their penalty kill ranks 28th in the league.

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Last season as a member of the Canadiens, Benn managed to put up five goals, the highest of his career, and matched his career-high 17 assists. He has just three assists so far this season, but the Canucks didn’t bring him in to put up points. They brought him in to anchor their third pairing, and to be a veteran presence who can help them out on the ice, and in the room as well.

Benn’s versatility was especially handy during Saturday afternoon’s victory over the Washington Capitals, as the Canucks lost Alex Edler in the first period to an injury, and were forced to put out pairings with two right-handed players. For players like Tyler Myers who have rarely played the left side, this can feel awkward and can lead to defensive missteps as we saw on Saturday.

But for players like Benn, it makes no difference, and that’s extremely beneficial to the Canucks. If the Canucks do lose Edler for the foreseeable future, they now have options as to who they want to call up. It doesn’t necessarily have to be a left-handed defenceman.

The 32-year-old Benn will hit unrestricted free agency after next season, and carries a $2 million cap hit this season and next.