It is no secret that despite what was seen as an obvious area in need of improvement, the New Jersey Devils are still quite atrocious in terms of possession this season. Since the change in regime, the Devils have not been able to find that possession dominance that the team had in the 2012-13 and 2013-14 seasons especially. Even generally, the Devils have always been at least a decent possession team, never having under a 50% Corsi from 2007-2014. Over the last three seasons, all of which have gone quite poorly, the Devils have not been able to control the run of play. For example, just look at the recent San Jose game. The Devils were up for the first period, true, but it did not take long into the second period before Brent Burns had something to say about that, and more than once. Considering the score effects of a 3-1 deficit for a solid half of the game, the Devils should have been able to come out positive in possession. But no, they ended up right around their season average, in the terrible 46% range at 5 on 5. They have trouble controlling play, period.
That brings me to Beau Bennett. He has been out for a few weeks now with a lower body. That is not surprising given his career so far. One of the reasons that he was available for a third rounder, despite being a former first round pick and still being young, is that he is injury prone. But despite not producing many points this season, only 10 in 40 games so far, the Devils could certainly use him back in the lineup. Why, you ask? Well possession, of course!
Just look at some really basic numbers. For all players in the NHL this season with at least 200 minutes played, the Devils have zero players in the top 100, and only one in the top 200. You know who that is? Beau Bennett, of course! He is ranked 107th in the league with a 53.3% Corsi. The next best Devil, Taylor Hall with his 51.4% Corsi, is ranked 207th, a full 100 spots worse.
Put it another way: Bennett has been the only Devil to consistently play this season that has been a very good possession player. Hall has been above average for sure, and he does usually skate against the opposition’s top players, so he is nothing to scoff at. The only other Devils over 50% right now (with at least 200 minutes played) are Travis Zajac and PA Parenteau, and both have been solid players, but only average in possession. Bennett has been the one person to buoy the Devils’ otherwise abysmal possession game.
The thing is too, he is not doing it the easy way either. Despite moving up and down the lineup, playing with different skaters regularly (he is not on any one of the Devils’ top 10 most consistently used lines to date, despite Nick Lappin and Miles Wood being on there with two different combinations), he still manages to produce positive possession numbers. He is slightly sheltered according to Corsica with 38% offensive zone starts to only 34% defensive (although Hockey Analysis has him at only 32% offensive with almost 34% defensive, and I can’t tell why they’re different. If H.A. is right, he isn’t sheltered. Either way, those numbers do not indicate a crazy differential like Eric Gelinas used to have, where he basically only got offensive zone draws). His quality of competition is also not all that easy, his CF.QoC being at 50.15. So he hasn’t been producing great possession stats simply because of circumstances or situations. He has been thrown out there with different line mates, playing against decent competition, and still coming out with a great 53 plus percent Corsi. No one else on the team can even come close to that.
So, is Beau Bennett the best Devil out there, one that this team is desperately missing on a night to night basis? Of course not. He is not a huge point producer; in fact he is not even a consistent producer. 0.25 points per game is pretty poor, even for Devils’ standards. But he can do one thing very well that basically no one else on the team has consistently done this season with the exception of Taylor Hall: drive possession forward. And considering that this is something that is so lacking on this team, to the tune of a horrible 46.5% Corsi on the season, the case can be made that the Devils miss him in the lineup.
Of course, possession is not everything. Just look at the 2012-13 and 2013-14 Devils seasons for confirmation on that one. Great possession without either great scoring or great goaltending will not equal a playoff berth. But as is notably obvious by anyone who even remotely follows hockey statistics at this point, it is a big deal. The Devils are bad at it, and have been going on three full seasons now. I would gather that this team will not become seriously competitive again until they become a consistently positive possession team once again. Having good possession players is definitely important, and as this roster currently looks, no one is better at it than Bennett. Let’s hope that he can get back into the lineup sooner rather than later, and help to tilt the ice once again in the Devils’ favor.