All signs point to Tyler Benson making his NHL season debut on Wednesday (Nov. 30) when the Edmonton Oilers take on the Chicago Blackhawks at the United Center. According to reports, he is expected to draw into the lineup in place of forward Klim Kostin, who is facing visa issues that prevented the Russian from traveling with the Oilers to Chicago for the start of their two-game road trip.
On Sunday (Nov. 27), Edmonton recalled Benson from the Bakersfield Condors of the American Hockey League, where the 24-year-old winger played three games on a conditioning loan. He missed the first several weeks of the regular season after suffering a knee injury in preseason action against the Vancouver Canucks on Oct. 3.
This will be the Edmonton native’s latest attempt to catch on with his hometown club, which drafted him in the second round (32nd overall) of the 2016 NHL Draft. Benson has played in 36 NHL regular season games over parts of two seasons since turning pro in 2018.
The cold, hard truth is that this could be a very limited opportunity for Benson. After concluding their road trip with a visit to the Xcel Energy Center to battle the Minnesota Wild on Thursday (Dec. 1), the Oilers will play the next four games at Rogers Place, where Kostin will be present to take his spot in the lineup. And by the time Edmonton heads back on the road, once again to Minnesota for a game on Dec. 12, Kostin’s visa issues could very well be resolved.
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Furthermore, Kostin hasn’t exactly been logging heavy minutes; the 23-year-old was on the ice for a total of just 13:02 over Edmonton’s last two games, matching 4-3 wins against the Florida Panthers and New York Rangers.
What this leaves Benson with is a couple of games in a bottom-six role to make enough of an impression to maintain a spot in the lineup past Thursday. That’s not much, but it’s a shot. And for those that know his backstory, to have a heart is to want to see him do well. For fans who might not be so familiar with the product of Edmonton’s South Side Athletic Club (SSAC), here are three reasons to root for his success.
Perseverance Pays Off: Benson Battled Through Injuries
Benson’s hurt knee was just the latest in an unfortunate string of injuries that have plagued the forward dating back to his junior career with the Vancouver Giants of the Western Hockey League. After putting up an impressive 45 points in 62 games as a 16-year-old with the Giants in 2014-15, injuries limited him to just 121 regular season games total over his final three years of junior.
A hip injury and a cyst on his tailbone were among the health issues Benson had to overcome in his latter teenage years. In 2017 he missed being part of Edmonton’s roster for the Young Stars rookie tournament following hernia surgery, then was unable to participate in Oilers training camp.
After finally staying healthy for a season and a half with the Condors, Benson made his NHL regular season debut in February 2020, playing seven games for the Oilers. But then the pandemic hit, and as the NHL went through stops and starts, playing inside of bubbles while making radical changes to everything from roster eligibility to divisional alignment, he wound up starting the 2020-21 season on loan to the GCK Lions of the Swiss League and finishing it back in Bakersfield.
Rewarding Dedication: Benson Reinvented His Game
From his days playing minor hockey in Edmonton, Benson’s greatest attributes had always revolved around offensive output, as the 6-foot forward was virtually a point-per-game player for his junior career and his first few seasons in Bakersfield. But the only openings in Edmonton were on the third and fourth lines, so he reinvented himself for the bottom-six role, going from a scorer to a checker that can provide energy and physicality.
Sure enough, Benson earned a spot on the Oilers roster to start the 2021-22 season and suited up for 29 games before being placed on waivers on March 17 and sent down to Bakersfield, where he spent the remainder of the regular season followed by the playoffs.
Amazing Moment: Benson Realizing Dream with Childhood Friends
Benson wasn’t the only player recalled by the Oilers on Sunday when they placed forwards Ryan McLeod and Kailer Yamamoto on injured reserve. They also added 23-year-old forward James Hamblin, who made his NHL regular season debut with the Oilers on Monday (Nov. 28) in their overtime victory over the Florida Panthers at Rogers Place.
Benson, Hamblin, and netminder Stuart Skinner – who has started 10 games for the Oilers this season and picked up his fifth win of 2022-23 on Monday – were bantam teammates on the Western Canadian Championship-winning SSAC Lions in 2013.
The odds of three players from the same bantam team making it to the big leagues are astronomically slim. Chances are exponentially less that they would hit the ice together wearing the same NHL uniform, but that’s exactly what could happen Wednesday night in Chicago, and a night later in St. Paul. Then, maybe, just maybe, they can be in the lineup together in their hometown Saturday night when the Oilers host the Montreal Canadiens at Rogers Place.
It’s an incredible story, particularly if Benson, against the odds, sticks around. His latest attempt at becoming a permanent fixture in the Oilers locker room begins on their brief road trip, and who in Oil Country can’t help but root for him to remain with the team for days, weeks, months, and maybe even years to come.
Brian is an Edmonton-based sports writer and broadcaster. His experience includes working as a sports reporter for the Edmonton Sun, where he covered the Edmonton Oil Kings 2013-14 Memorial Cup championship season.