Brad Treliving has added to the Maple Leafs’ defensive depth chart with the signing of 24-year-old Simon Benoit to a one-year deal worth $775,000.
Benoit will join other offseason signings, Max Lajoie and William Lagesson, as well as incumbent Conor Timmins in a group battling for playing time in the NHL behind the team’s established top-six group of Morgan Rielly, TJ Brodie, Jake McCabe, John Klingberg, Timothy Liljegren, and Mark Giordano.
Turning 25 in a few weeks, Benoit is coming off his first full season in the NHL, playing 78 games for the Anaheim Ducks logging 19:21 per game, which ranked fourth among all Ducks defensemen. He was miscast in that role, and it was a bit unfair to shoehorn him into it on such a bad team — he was outscored 40-71 at five-on-five largely while playing with Kevin Shattenkirk. Aside from the Ducks’ overall struggles and lack of quality options, Benoit was paired with Shattenkirk to give him a partner who excels at moving the puck and making plays, which Benoit can struggle with as more of a meat-and-potatoes player.
At 6’3, what Benoit can do is take the body. He was 21st in the league in hits and 56th in blocked shots last season. He knows that it’s the key to him sustaining any sort of NHL career.
An undrafted free agent, Benoit went to Anaheim in the summer of 2018 and quickly endeared himself to the organization and then-AHL head coach Dallas Eakins. Eakins described Benoit at that time:
“Extremely raw but one of the hardest working players I’ve coached or played with. He was scraping to stay in the lineup and be noticed. He was never deterred… That kid’s resilience, discipline and the amount of work he’s put in is an unbelievable testament to him. Anyone that is looking to get better anywhere in their life should look at him. With his dedication and discipline, it’s quite amazing.”
Considering he had such a fan in Eakins, it shouldn’t come as much surprise that Benoit was able to crack the Ducks lineup a few years later with Eakins in place as the head coach.
While his metrics won’t rate well, it should be noted how bad of a team Anaheim was/is. They gave up the most goals in the league and scored the second-fewest goals in the league. They were the worst 5v5 corsi team in the league as well. It was only a few years ago that Hampus Lindholm was questioned as a viable top-four defenseman before he was traded to Boston and suddenly became a top-pairing quality defenseman again.
Perhaps a more apt comparison is the defenseman the Ducks placed on waivers last season in part to keep Benoit, Josh Mahura, who was claimed by Florida after a fairly nondescript career to that point with Anaheim.
The Anaheim Ducks have claimed Brett Leason, the Florida Panthers have claimed Josh Mahura from waivers. We have their cards. Jarred Tinordi (CHI) and Axel Jonsson-Fjällby (WPG) were also claimed. We're in the league where Tinordi was claimed and Bemstrom wasn't. pic.twitter.com/SDXEsJdb0b
— Andy & Rono (@ARHockeyStats) October 10, 2022
When Mahura arrived in Florida – a much better team – he magically transformed into a good depth player.
The Florida Panthers have re-signed defenseman Josh Mahura to a one-year deal with an AAV of $925K. Mahura is an another example that you can add good player from waivers. Panthers' system helped him a lot and he became legit NHL defenseman. Great for Florida. pic.twitter.com/x8T3f4ei1y
— Andy & Rono (@ARHockeyStats) February 10, 2023
Now, I’m not necessarily suggesting that Benoit is a hidden gem per se, but he does have some tools (big and mobile) and he has some legitimate NHL experience (137 NHL games, 17:13 per game). It’s really difficult to evaluate players stuck on bad teams, but it can offer a real opportunity to extract value knowing those teams play with poor structure and create environments that make players – particularly defensemen – look much worse than they actually are.
That would ring especially true for a player like Benoit, who is not particularly skilled. Players of this type need structure on the ice to excel; they need teammates surrounding them who are going to elevate them by doing their jobs properly instead of a young, inexperienced Ducks team that largely freestyles and doesn’t know how to defend through the neutral zone.
If Benoit doesn’t make the Leafs’ roster for opening night, he would require waivers to go down to the Marlies just as Lajoie, Lagesson, and Timmins would. This is a cheap bet on a player that, if it doesn’t work out, will join a numbers game of players hitting waivers with the hopes of making it down to a Marlies blue line consisting of Topi Niemela, William Villeneuve, Marshall Rifai, and Mikko Kokkonen. It should ensure that the Marlies have some players with real NHL experience to pair up with their young rearguards.
A key difference from Simon Benoit to July 1 signings William Lagesson and Max Lajoie is that Benoit isn’t deemed a veteran by AHL rules.
Should Benoit spend time on the Marlies’ roster, he won’t put the team in an awkward position in regards to the veteran rule
— Kyle Cushman (@Kyle_Cush) August 28, 2023