Oilers’ Benson Making Case to Be on Opening Night Roster

Tyler Benson has recorded 38 goals and 153 points in 174 American Hockey League (AHL) games, and when the Edmonton Oilers re-signed him to a one-year, two-way deal for league minimum this past offseason, the likely plan was for him to be a veteran presence with their farm team, the Bakersfield Condors.

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However, it appears Benson’s plans are to stick with the main club because he’s been turning heads with an excellent training camp so far. The 32nd-overall pick from the 2016 NHL Draft always had the smarts for the game and the ability to make plays, but it was his average footspeed and shot that seemingly held him back from being a full-time NHL player. Because of his drawbacks, he even added an agitating element to his game in an attempt to redefine his role in the lineup.

It’s only preseason, yet, he looks faster, and feistier, and with his highlight-reel goal last Saturday against the Winnipeg Jets, it looks as though he’s added some torque to his shot as well. He looks hungry and motivated, and if he continues to impress this preseason, he very well could play his way onto the Oilers opening night roster.

Benson Has Struggled to Become an NHL Regular

Benson appeared in 29 NHL games last season and was only able to tally a single goal and an assist. He previously played for now Oilers’ head coach Jay Woodcroft for three seasons in Bakersfield and many players — like teammate Ryan McLeod — saw an uptick in play and production when Woodcroft took over behind the Oilers bench, but not Benson. He played in 10 games under the new coaching staff at the NHL level but fell victim to the numbers game and was waived and re-assigned to the AHL last March (from “Oilers Sign Tyler Benson to 1-Year, 2-Way Pact at NHL Minimum,” Edmonton Journal, 8/6/22).

Tyler Benson Edmonton Oilers
Tyler Benson, Edmonton Oilers (Photo by Andy Devlin/NHLI via Getty Images)

Benson has been a point producer in the minor leagues, but he hasn’t been able to translate it to the NHL level yet. Although he only registered a goal in an assist last season, there was no denying his effort level and his willingness to be physical and engage with opposing players after the whistle. Because of his compete level and the intangibles he brings, the Oilers decided to give it another go and signed the Edmonton, AB native on Aug. 6 to a one-year contract for $750,000 at the NHL level and $275,000 in the AHL.

Benson Has Shown His Improved Skating and Shot in Preseason

Benson has appeared in four preseason games so far, and he’s noticeably faster and seems to be getting better as each game goes by. He’s averaging 14.55 time on ice (TOI), thrown six hits, and scored an absolute beauty of a goal on former Vezina Trophy winner, Connor Hellebuyck. Because he’s competing for a fourth-line spot, he’s not expected to produce a lot of points, but there’s an expectation as a bottom-six player to win your shifts and not give up goals against the opposition. So far in four preseason games, the analytics show he’s posted a 50 Corsi for percentage (CF%), 50 GF% (percentage of total goals while that player is on the ice), 49.09 SF% (percentage of total shots while that player is on the ice), meaning he’s almost breaking even and not giving up more chances than he creates.

Before the game against the Winnipeg Jets last Saturday, he talked about the improvement in his game, saying, “I feel like the things that I’ve worked on in the offseason, I’ve been able to apply and they’ve been showing in the games, so I’ve been happy with how that’s gone so far, and I want to keep continuing to build on my game throughout the camp.”

Later that night, he played one of his best games (although it’s the preseason) in an Oilers uniform. He played 18:46 TOI, which was second among forwards, posted a 55 CF%, hit and agitated, and scored off a rocket shot that beat Hellebuyck high glove-side. Now, the goal he scored, and the method of how he scored it, have significance. Firstly, it was a seeing-eye goal that beat one of the NHL’s best goaltenders, and secondly, he’s struggled to score that type of goal (or score goals in general) in the NHL. If he’s added an above-average NHL-caliber shot to his arsenal, that would be extremely useful in the Oilers’ bottom six to provide secondary scoring.

Additionally, in the second period, Benson hit Mason Appleton and was given a questionable boarding penalty, but it lured veteran forward Adam Lowry to take a roughing penalty against him to even up the call. With the departures of Zack Kassian and Josh Archibald, there’s a need for feistiness and truculence in the Oilers’ bottom six. Can Benson be that player for the Oilers? So far, he’s owning his audition and his pesky ways are helping his cause in the preseason. Overall, he had an excellent night in the Oiler’s 3-2 shootout win over the Jets, and you can tell he earned the trust of the coaching staff because he even got to start overtime alongside Dylan Holloway.

Related: 4 Oilers On the Bubble That Are Standing Out in Preseason

Over the last few preseason games, he’s been relentless and a pest in the opposition’s eye. He’s always had the work ethic, but now it seems he’s added the motor and a shot that can cleanly beat NHL goalies. If he can continue his progress, he might earn the chance to have his name penciled in on the opening night lineup on Oct. 12.

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