Oilers’ Benson Still Figuring Out Role in Organization

The Edmonton Oilers placed their confidence in Tyler Benson in hopes that he will get over the hump next season. It is a very important season for the 24-year-old who was supposed to have found his place by now.

At the moment, Benson is a fringe NHL player and earned a one-year, two-way contract for the upcoming season. He will get a good look in training camp but needs to find a way to start producing as he has in the minors, or he will end up a career American Hockey League (AHL) player.

Does Benson Have a Place on the Oilers?

The Oilers now look very good up front after Ken Holland managed to bring back Evander Kane and get Kailer Yamamoto and Jesse Puljujarvi signed. Ryan McLeod is also expected to be awarded a one- to two-year contract, but he wouldn’t be competing with Benson for a roster spot.

Related: 5 Free Agent Forwards the Oilers Should Consider Signing

The team also went out and signed Mattias Janmark and has been linked to winger Phil Kessel who should come at a cheap price. The Oilers’ roster isn’t set, but the more names that enter the mix, the more difficult it will be for Benson to crack the lineup, and he will likely be pushed out. That is why Holland signed him to a two-way deal. I also haven’t forgotten the organization’s strong forward prospects who will be competing for spots, and as they are younger and were drafted higher than Benson, they will likely get a better look.

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

Dylan Holloway and Xavier Bourgault are the two forward prospects that appear to be set to play for the Oilers at some point next season, and it won’t be in a fourth-line role. Benson has just 36 games of NHL experience with one goal and three points to show for it. That’s a decent sample size for a 24-year-old, but he shouldn’t be counted out just yet. He still has great playmaking ability and, with confidence, could start to put up some points. The issue is the Oilers are in win-now mode and don’t appear to be ready to give players who aren’t producing tons of chances. If they were a rebuilding team, that would be a different story, but they must ice the lineup that gives them the best chance to win every night.

What Benson has going for him is that he altered his game to stick around, is now physical, and works hard. His cap hit is also just $750,000, and if he can find the scoring touch he’s had in the AHL under Jay Woodcroft, he could stick around and help the Oilers. Cheap options who contribute on the fourth line are always welcome.

What Benson Brings to the AHL

The two-way contract that Benson has for next season (and his salary of $225,000 at the AHL level) indicates Holland expects him to be spending most of the season there. This may not be ideal for Benson, but he is talented enough to help the Oilers’ prospects in Bakersfield develop.

The money Benson is being paid in the AHL also indicates the Oilers are invested in improving their farm system and keeping talented players around even if they can’t make the jump to the NHL (from ‘The best thing Ken Holland could do for the Edmonton Oilers is ‘slow it down’: 9 Things,’ Edmonton Journal, Aug. 7, 2022). The organization has Tyler Tullio, Carter Savoie, and possibly Matvei Petrov joining the Condors next season, and at least one of them will look to be in the top-six playing beside a proven AHL scorer.

Carter Savoie University of Denver
Carter Savoie, University of Denver (Mark Kuhlmann-NCHC)

Benson has racked up 38 goals and 153 points in 174 games and has seen the likes of Yamamoto and McLeod pass him by and succeed in the NHL. It would also be ideal For scorers like Savoie, Tullio, and Petrov to have a great playmaker like Benson feeding them the puck to help build their confidence but also push them toward the NHL.

Benson Has to Break Through Next Season

Holland has stated that the Oilers may start the season with 21-22 players on their roster. With 23 spots available, that might cut a depth forward from the mix, which means Benson would have to impress even more to earn a spot on the Oilers’ roster. Time is running out for him with prospects passing him by. I see similarities to Seth Griffith, a very productive AHL player in the organization that had some chances in the NHL but couldn’t produce either, while Cooper Marody was like both of them without a real shot at the NHL.

For Benson to succeed and be anything more than a top AHL player for the organization in his career, he will have to show something special next season and get a bit of luck to get a call-up. He will also have to continue producing as he has in the AHL. But players can always come on strong later. Derek Ryan played his first NHL game at 28, for example. There is still hope for Benson, and Holland made the right choice in keeping him around.

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