Jim Benning felt plenty of pressure when he arrived as a player at the Toronto Maple Leafs' training camp 33 years ago, but that will seem like a picnic compared to the scrutiny he will endure in the restless hockey market of Vancouver.
Since Trevor Linden took over the Canucks as president six weeks ago, Benning has been considered a frontrunner to become the new Vancouver general manager. Linden made it official Wednesday, hiring Benning for the job.
"He wouldn't take the job if he couldn't handle the pressure," says John Muckler, Benning's former boss with the Buffalo Sabres. "Jim should have been a general manager a long time ago. He'll succeed out west. He's a veteran hockey guy who knows what it takes to build a winner.
"I love the guy. He's so dedicated. He loves everything about the game. He loves the history of hockey. He works hard and he's a good communicator. He will forge strong relationships with his players and the people around him because he is so genuine."
Former 6th-overall pick
A few months before Benning arrived at Toronto's training camp in 1981, he was coming off a dandy second full season with the Portland Winter Hawks that saw him lead the WHL in scoring among defencemen with 28 goals and 139 points in 72 games.
He won the Bill Hunter Trophy as the junior league's best defenceman and helped the Winter Hawks advance to the West Division final, only to lose to the eventual WHL champion Victoria Cougars in seven games.
That's why the Maple Leafs selected the then 18-year-old Benning sixth overall in the 1981 NHL entry draft. Though he didn't live up to his draft position, Benning certainly impressed his teammates throughout his nine-season NHL career with his hockey knowledge.
Bond with Linden
His final two seasons were spent with the Canucks, playing alongside a young teammate named Trevor Linden, who faced similar pressure coming out of junior because the Canucks chose him second overall in the 1988 draft.
Benning was there for Linden. They had a common bond because they both played in the NHL as teenagers. Now, together again, they will try to put the Canucks back among the league's elite.
Linden wanted a talent evaluator, and that's the kind of hockey executive he will get in Benning, a native of Edmonton who favours players with character and a strong work ethic.
"[Benning] will need some time to correct the weak spots on that roster," Muckler says. "Jimmy is a Western guy at heart. [Benning still has an off-season home in the Portland area]. He wants to be there. He's a smart hockey man who has always given the right input."
Learned ropes in Buffalo, Boston
A few years after Benning's final season as a player with the 1990-91 AHL Milwaukee Admirals, the Sabres hired him as a part-time scout. He spent a dozen years with Buffalo, the last eight as their director of scouting, before he was lured away to the Boston Bruins.
Benning learned the scouting ways in Buffalo from Don Luce, Jack Bowman and Ross Mahoney and helped build the Sabres into an organization that made it to the 1999 Stanley Cup final as well as back-to-back trips to the East final in 2006 and 2007.
In Boston, first as director of player personnel for a year and then as assistant GM for the last eight seasons, Benning had a significant sidekick role to Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli and helped build a championship team.
Now, he'll get an opportunity to run his own NHL club in Vancouver, in a market that deserves a good hockey man like Benning.
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