Edmonton Oilers prospect Tyler Benson could become the best forward the organization has drafted after the first round since Jarret Stoll in 2002. In fairness, the list of names to beat out for that title isn’t long. However, in recent years, the Oilers have made better use of their selections outside the top 30 by targeting players with skill, speed and high hockey IQ.
Selected by the Oilers in the second round (32nd overall) of the 2016 NHL Entry Draft, Benson ticks all of the boxes, so there’s reason to believe he will develop into a solid NHL player.
Ahead of Oilers rookie camp, Benson told Oilers TV he was excited to get on the ice with his childhood team after missing the past two training camps with injury issues.
“It’s going to be a little different for me,” said Benson. “I’ve been to a few camps, but I’ve never had the chance to participate. So, this will be my first one where I’m able to skate with the guys and compete. I’m really looking forward to it.”
Benson was the best of the rookies at this year’s camp, tallying one goal and three assists in two games against the Calgary Flames rookies and the NAIT/McEwan All-Stars. An excellent showing has moved Benson one step closer to realizing his NHL dream.
Up and Down Junior Career
Born and raised in Edmonton, Benson stood out from an early age. The local product played two seasons (2011-2013) with the South Side Athletic Club Southgate Lions of the Alberta Major Bantam Hockey League (AMBHL) and helped the Lions claim the 2012-13 Provincial and Western Canadian AAA titles.
At age 15, he broke the AMBHL single-season records for assists (89) and points with 146 in 33 games and was named the league’s most valuable player. That summer, he was selected first overall by the Vancouver Giants in the 2013 WHL Bantam Draft.
Benson spent the 2013-14 season at the Pursuit of Excellence Hockey Academy in Kelowna, British Columbia, before playing seven late-season games with the Giants. He joined the team full time the following year and after a promising rookie campaign in the WHL where he put up 45 points in 62 games, Benson was named the captain of the Giants as a 17-year-old.
Coming into his draft year, Benson was a consensus top-15 pick but his stock dipped after he was sidelined for 42 games while recovering from surgery to remove a cyst in his spine and an inflammation of the pelvis. When healthy, Benson produced well, registering 28 points in 30 games in 2015-16.
After the Oilers drafted him in the summer of 2016, Benson notched 42 points in 33 games in 2016-17 but he, unfortunately, had to sit out another 39 games due to a sports hernia. Last season, he stayed relatively healthy and led the Giants in assists (42) and finished second on the team in goals (27) and points (69) in 58 games. It was a strong but unexceptional season for the 20-year-old left winger.
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What’s Next For Benson?
The Oilers will provide Benson with plenty of opportunity to succeed in the AHL this season. Gone are the days of veteran minor-league players taking all the cherry minutes away from legitimate NHL prospects, like Benson. Assistant GM Keith Gretzky, who oversees the Bakersfield Condors, will make sure the top prospects he had a hand in drafting are playing in the top-six and getting time on the power play.
I think Benson, Kailer Yamamoto and Cooper Marody could be a dangerous offensive trio for the Condors and could help lead the team back to the playoffs for the first time since the franchise relocated to Bakersfield from Oklahoma City in 2015.
Benson had a taste of what it’s like to play in the AHL last season after the Giants were eliminated from the WHL playoffs. The 5-foot-11, 202-pound forward had no goals and three assists in five games with the Condors in 2017-18. If he can stay healthy for the entire 68-game season and put up 50 or more points, Oilers fans should be thrilled with his progress. That said, Benson isn’t going to just accept that he’s destined for the AHL. He’s coming to the Oilers’ main camp to steal a spot on the roster.
While I believe Benson is at least a year or two away from playing in the NHL, the Oilers aren’t so deep on the wings that it’s ridiculous to think he might get into some games with the big club this season. Injuries have set back his development, but he could make GM Peter Chiarelli and head coach Todd McLellan consider keeping him if he continues to create offence once the level of competition increases against proven NHL players in the pre-season. Still, it’s not a race. When Benson is ready, there will be a spot on the team for him.