The Edmonton Oilers appear to have found an internal solution for their scoring woes on the wing. After a 4-10-1 slump, the team is on a 3-0-1 run since recalling Kailer Yamamoto from the Bakersfield Condors.
Yamamoto has fit in nicely on a skilled line with Leon Draisaitl and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, and he’s producing like a legitimate top-six winger. The 21-year-old has two goals, three points and a plus-four rating in four games with the Oilers this season.
Oilers radio analyst and host of Oilers Now on 630 CHED Bob Stauffer says that fellow prospect Tyler Benson could be joining the team shortly as well:
At some point here, I think the Oilers are going to test drive Tyler Benson. I don’t know when it’s going to be, but I think it’s inevitable that it’s going to happen. I think a lot of fans want to see it happen. They want to see what Benson can give Edmonton to create even more balance up front.Bob Stauffer on 630 CHED’s Oilers Now (Jan. 7)
Benson Is NHL Ready
Selected by the Oilers in the second round (32nd overall) of 2016 NHL Draft, Benson is the top forward prospect in the system. In 2018-19, he finished tied for third in the AHL in assists (51) and eighth in points (66) in 68 games with the Condors, and was named to the AHL All-Rookie Team.
This season, Benson leads the Condors in assists (21) and points (29) through 33 games. After missing significant time due to injury in his junior career, he has taken steps forward in his development in the last season and a half with the Condors. General manager Ken Holland believes in bringing players along slowly, but Benson is ready to make the jump to the NHL.
With 106 games of AHL experience on his resume, Benson has nothing left to learn at this level. His .92 career points per game average in the AHL suggests he should be able to provide decent secondary scoring in the NHL (37.0 NHLe). The Oilers have just seven players on pace for 37 or more points this season, so Benson would be a welcome addition.
With the game getting faster each season, there are concerns about Benson’s foot speed. While he’s never going to be a speedster, Benson possesses a high hockey IQ, which is arguably the second-most important ability to succeed in today’s NHL.
Where Should Benson Play?
Allowing Benson to spend a full season in the AHL in 2018-19 was a wise decision by the organization, but it wouldn’t stunt his development to bring him up to the Oilers for even 5 to 10 games this season. If he shows he’s capable of contributing at the highest level, then he might earn a permanent roster spot.
Benson was drafted to eventually play on one of the Oilers’ top two lines, but that doesn’t mean he has to start there. The team needs more skill in their bottom-six, and Benson could add some offensive punch on a soft-minutes third line. Still, Benson has the smarts to play with Connor McDavid or Draisaitl in the future.
Holland and head coach Dave Tippett surely don’t want to break him into the league against the opposition’s top defenders. However, Benson could thrive with more talented players around him. If the Oilers keep the Nugent-Hopkins, Draisaitl and Yamamoto line together, Benson would have to steal James Neal’s spot on the first line.
I could see Benson working well McDavid and Zack Kassian, but I doubt we will see that trio play together in 2019-20. Expect Benson to play the left side with Gaetan Haas and Alex Chiasson if he gets recalled down the stretch drive. He isn’t a lock to play NHL games this season, but he should be on the roster no later than opening night in 2020-21.
Eric Friesen is a freelance sports broadcaster and journalist in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. Eric has diplomas in Broadcasting from Mount Royal University in Calgary and Sports Journalism from Centennial College in Toronto. A lifelong hockey fan, Eric has followed the Edmonton Oilers for more than 20 years. He cheers for the Oilers because of his hockey hero Wayne Gretzky, who played his more productive seasons in Oil Country.