Yet another former Sherwood Park Crusader has signed an NHL contract. 

Defender Michael Benning, who played two seasons with Sherwood Park from 2018 to 2020, inked an entry-level deal with the Florida Panthers last week. 

He has spent the last three seasons playing with the Denver Pioneers in the NCAA. 

"It feels good, I thought I was ready to make the next step," said Benning. "Florida has been really helpful throughout this whole process." 

Born and raised in St. Albert, Benning is no stranger to playing away from home. Though he does admit that going from snowy Alberta to sunny Florida will be an adjustment. 

"It's definitely a switch-up that's for sure," said Benning. "My first four days in Florida there was flooding going, so there wasn't much sun or heat."

After signing the deal, Benning has been practicing with the Panthers while they battle the Boston Bruins in their first-round playoff matchup. 

Though unlikely to get into actual game action, Benning has been soaking up as much as he can. 

"It's been really good, the guys have been welcoming," said Benning. "It's kind of been easy for me, guys are teaching me the ways and stuff like that so it's been good." 

Rubbing shoulders with NHL players during the biggest time of the year is a valuable experience for a young player like Benning. He says that one cagey NHL veteran has caught his eye while practicing. 

"Patric Hörnqvist, he's not even playing but he is with the team," said Benning. "He just works so hard and is very detailed, so I think he stands out for me." 

After the playoffs end, the plan is to enjoy some time off before pushing for an NHL spot in training camp in September. 

"I got a couple of weddings this summer, other than that, spending time with family and getting ready for next year." 

Benning was selected 95th overall by the Panthers in the 2020 NHL Draft. Since then he has won both an NCAA championship and an NCAA Tournament MVP award.