The Edmonton Oilers are poised to be a greatly improved team in the coming 2016-17 NHL season.
Note the emphasis on “poised“.
In the off-season of 2016, General Manager Peter Chiarelli and his Hockey Operations department not only signed highly coveted free agent Milan Lucic, but they also made a monumental trade, dealing Taylor Hall to the New Jersey Devils in exchange for defenseman Adam Larsson. These two moves signified a major paradigm shift in Edmonton, as the Oilers, long driven by a high-octane offense, instead, and accurately, turned their attention to creating a more intimidating yet defensively sound roster.
— National Post (@nationalpost) July 28, 2016
In addition, the Oilers also inked two notable prospects in Drake Caggiula, a standout winger with the University of North Dakota, and Matthew Benning, a sound defender who played for Northeastern University in 2015-16. These two prospects, both NCAA stars, provide Edmonton with even greater depth at multiple positions on the ice, the most important of which being on defense, with both retaining the potential to play a role in the NHL this coming season.
However, lost in the mayhem that was the Oilers’ off-season was the signing of Joey Benik, a star NCAA player in his own right whose acquisition has flown largely under the radar.
Just Who is Joey Benik?
In all likelihood, you have not heard Benik’s name before, yet in reality, this should come as little to no surprise despite the fact that he played two seasons in the British Columbia Hockey League (BCHL).
As a standout with the Penticton Vees, an annual powerhouse in the BCHL, Benik racked up an incredible number of points – 152 to be exact in just 120 games played. While playing with the Vees, Benik also played alongside current Bakersfield Condors defender Joey Laleggia, who was a standout himself. Further, Benik also skated alongside Minnesota Wild defender Mike Reilly, who burst onto the scene with Team USA during the 2015 World Championship.
Following his second year of play in the BCHL, Benik committed to the St. Cloud State University, where he spent the next four years of his hockey career.
In his freshman season, Benik posted solid totals of eight goals and 12 points in his first 24 games played, while his production further improved in his sophomore season where he recorded 12 goals and 27 points in 32 games played. Yet, it was in his junior season in which Benik truly began to gain national attention. In his 40 game season of 2014-15, Benik notched 16 goals, while his 39 points led his team. As a senior, Benik enjoyed an even more consistent and tremendously successful campaign, as not only did Benik net 23 goals, the most on his team, but his 48 points also set a new career high.
Benik’s successful college career was capped off nicely in 2015-16, as St. Cloud State won the National Collegiate Hockey Conference (NCHC). However, on a more personal level, winning said championship was not the only bright spot for Benik, as the Condors extended him and Amateur Try-Out (ATO). In the four games he played for Bakersfield in 2015-16, Benik recorded a single assist.
Although Benik did not light up the AHL in his first four game stint, he did in fact make a positive impression within the Oilers’ organization as a whole, and as such was offered a one-year American Hockey League deal in April of 2016.
Despite spending the 2016 off-season waiting eagerly for the 2016-17 season to get underway, Benik has wasted no time making the most of his newest opportunity with Edmonton.
As one of the team’s newest, most promising prospects, Benik attended the annual Young Stars Tournament, held this year in Penticton, British Columbia, and made an immediate impact. In the Oilers’ three games played, Benik registered four goals and two assists, good for six points. Oh, and remember that guy named Jesse Puljujarvi? He too had six points, as Benik, Puljujarvi, and Caggiula skated on the team’s top line.
EDM team save percentage .956 in Penticton. Benik (4-2-6) & Puljujarvi (2-4-6) tourney’s leading scorers. EDM 7-0-2 last 9 at Youngstars.
— Jack Michaels (@EdmontonJack) September 19, 2016
Quite clearly, Benik, despite being somewhat of a veteran at 24-years-old, wasted no time making a further impression upon Oilers management, dominating a tournament laden with players of tremendous skill and untapped potential. One of his goals, in particular, stood out amongst the rest:
— Edmonton Oilers (@EdmontonOilers) September 18, 2016
What Does the Future Hold?
Obviously, Benik has the skill, experience, and potential to be a successful professional hockey player, but just what exactly can he develop into for the Oilers in the near future?
Well, at 5’10”, 175 pounds, Benik projects, at the moment, to be a solid, depth prospect at the AHL level. Now, this goes without saying that, given his skill set and rapid advancement throughout multiple levels of hockey in his career, Benik can certainly continue to develop and become a regular, everyday NHL player.
As a forward who can play both the wing as well as center, Benik’s on-ice flexibility is surely yet another positive, as with the Oilers currently flush at the centre-ice position, Benik’s first taste of NHL action would likely come on the wing.
Regardless of all speculation, only time will tell what Benik can truly become in the professional hockey ranks. Opening the season on a one-way AHL deal, Benik will spend the 2016-17 season with the Condors. In doing so, Benik will attempt to acclimate his college game to the professional level, a process which could be much easier for Benik considering his wealth of experience. If Benik wishes to earn a new deal with Edmonton come the end of the season, he will have to prove that he can produce consistently in the AHL. Of course, there will be an adjustment period, but Benik will have to make sure he finds his game quickly given his contract status.
In all, Benik is an interesting and certainly relatively unheard of prospect in the Oilers’ pipeline. With a tremendous amount of skill and experience, Benik will have a short amount of time to prove he can compete in professional hockey. However, if he is able to surprise, once again, he could be a legitimate prospect on the Oilers’ radar in the near future. A highly talented youngster with loads of motivation, Benik is certainly one to watch for the Oilers this coming season.
Brett Slawson is a four-year veteran of The Hockey Writers who covers the Toronto Maple Leafs, NHL prospects, and the OHL’s Mississauga Steelheads.
Contact Brett on Twitter @brettslawson92, or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.