By Gordon Weigers, news staff
Over the last few weeks, Northeastern hockey fans have had the privilege of watching the latest Husky to make it to the NHL: Matt Benning. The newest Edmonton Oilers defenseman joins NU alums Josh Manson, Anthony Bitetto, Joe Vitale and Jamie Oleksiak as the only ex-Huskies currently on NHL rosters. Though Vitale will be out for the year with a concussion and Bitetto and Oleksiak are in and out of their respective lineups, Manson and Benning have earned their stays in the NHL.
Manson, whose father Dave played in the NHL from 1986 to 2002 and amassed 390 points and 2,792 penalty minutes, is in his second full season with the Anaheim Ducks. So far this season, with the absence of stud defenseman Hampus Lindholm due to contract negotiations, Manson has thrived under the pressure of an increased role on Anaheim’s back end. The former NU captain has three assists so far this season and is one of the best up-and-coming blueliners in the NHL.
Benning, a vital part of the Hockey East champion Huskies from a year ago, picked up his first points in the big league last Saturday when he recorded two assists in Edmonton’s 4-3 shootout win over the New York Islanders.
As an Islanders fan, it was bittersweet watching Benning get on the scoresheet against my favorite team, but it was nothing compared to the excruciating pain that comes with seeing the New York Rangers at the top of the Metropolitan Division standings. The Rangers are off to a blazing start this season and their success is due in large part to their former NCAA standouts. Rangers forward Kevin Hayes is tied for the league lead in scoring among ex-college players with Sharks captain Joe Pavelski at 12 points apiece.
Hayes, who used to give Northeastern endless headaches in his time at Boston College, is one of six Rangers ex-NCAA players with at least nine points this year. Jimmy Vesey of Harvard, Chris Kreider of BC, Derek Stepan and Ryan McDonagh of Wisconsin and Brandon Pirri of Rensselaer have been leading the way for the Rangers this season. Coming into this season, I really thought that the Rangers would be on a decline, but their core of college stars has set the team on a hot streak to start the year.
As the season continues, two college standouts are primed to make names for themselves as they gain more professional experience. Look out for Columbus defenseman Zach Werenski, who has piled up 10 points so far this year. The former Michigan star is going to break out this year and become an elite defenseman in the NHL. The other is Vesey, who has supercharged the Ranger offense with six goals so far this year. Though the rookie of the year honors will likely go to either Patrik Laine or Auston Matthews, don’t count Vesey or Werenski out just yet.