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NHL Free Agency 2017: Beau Bennett could be a bottom of the roster bargain

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He was New Jersey’s best possession player last season.

NHL: New Jersey Devils at Pittsburgh Penguins Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

A handful of interesting players were not signed to qualifying offers by Monday’s deadline. St. Louis Blues forward Nail Yakupov, Colorado Avalanche forward Mikhail Grigorenko, and Calgary Flames forward Alex Chiasson were all unsigned, and are set to become unrestricted free agents on Saturday. Each of those players have had a measure of NHL success, but their flaws mostly outweigh any potential upside.

The same cannot be said of New Jersey Devils right wing Beau Bennett. He’s flawed, sure, but is far more intriguing than other players who were not tendered qualifying offers. While he may never live up to his status as a 2010 first round pick, he demonstrated last season that he is a capable NHL player, and is worth exploring as a cheap, bottom six option.

Bennett, a Southern California native, is coming off of the best season of his career. He set career-highs in goals (8), assists (11), points (19), and games played (65) after the Pittsburgh Penguins traded him to the Devils last summer. The 25-year-old has missed significant time due to injury throughout his career, and once again missed time last season with a leg injury from late-November to early-December, plus a separate lower-body in January and February.

Those boxcar statistics aren’t eye-popping, especially for a former first round pick, but Bennett has never been much of a scorer. He hasn’t scored more than nine goals in a season since his days in the BCHL, but drove play for one of the league’s worst possession teams last season.

Last year, Bennett led all Devils (min. 300 minutes played) with a 53.27% corsi-for percentage, and finished second behind Taylor Hall with a +6.63% corsi-for percentage relative to his team when he was off of the ice. He wasn’t exactly sheltered in those minutes either, as he finished tenth on New Jersey in offensive and defensive zone starts.

Bennett’s ability to generate and suppress shots is better than some of the options Head Coach Peter DeBoer had at his disposal in San Jose’s bottom six forward group last season. Consider these charts, courtesy of Own the Puck, comparing Bennett to three players who saw significant time on the fourth line last season: Micheal Haley, Chris Tierney, and Melker Karlsson.

Micheal Haley vs Beau Bennett
Chris Tierney vs Beau Bennett
Melker Karlsson vs Beau Bennett

Each of the three scored goals or primary assists at a higher rate than Bennett over the last three seasons, but none drove possession quite like him. Bennett would provide San Jose’s bottom six forwards an element that was missing last season, and would do so cheaply.

New Jersey would have needed to offer $761,520, or 105% of Bennett’s salary from last season ($725,000), to qualify him as a restricted free agent. They elected not to, but could still re-sign even as he is set to hit unrestricted free agency on Saturday.

The Sharks should not let it get to that point, as signing Bennett to a contract at or below his potential qualifying offer’s value would be money well spent. Given his injury history, it would be risky to sign him for longer than two years, but the cap hit is manageable enough where an injury wouldn’t cause substantial salary cap stress.

He’d improve San Jose’s bottom six forward depth, especially on the fourth line which could use Bennett’s possession-driving pedigree. Bennett is an upgrade in that area over the Sharks’ current crop of fourth-liners. Bottom six forward help is not San Jose’s biggest need, but it’s a need nonetheless, and signing Bennett would go a long way towards addressing it.