Oilers Need to Find Silver Lining in Losing Larsson

On Wednesday, July 21, Edmonton Oilers defenceman Adam Larsson was selected by the Seattle Kraken in the 2021 NHL Expansion Draft. It was reported that the 28-year-old UFA had agreed to a four-year deal with Seattle worth $16 million.

The Kraken selected one unprotected player from every NHL team excluding the Vegas Golden Knights. UFAs who were signed counted as Seattle’s selection from said player’s former team.

Seattle’s acquisition of Larsson sent shockwaves through Edmonton, where until recently it long seemed a lock that the veteran blueliner would be re-signing with the Oilers. Larsson’s departure not only leaves a giant hole in the lineup that will not be easily filled, but it also raises questions about why, after five seasons in Edmonton, the assistant captain would want “a change of scenery” just as the Oilers are on the cusp of championship contention.

Related: Oilers Must Figure Out Cause of Larsson’s Sudden Departure to Kraken

But there is a ray of sunlight breaking through the clouds from the storm of activity Wednesday that saw Larsson land in Seattle, and his name is Tyler Benson.

Expected to Lose Benson

Most Edmonton fans had already come to terms with losing the promising 23-year-old left-winger, who was one of several players left exposed when the Oilers did not include him on their expansion protection list of seven forwards, three defencemen, and one goaltender.

it was widely assumed Seattle would help itself to the skilled Benson, particularly given the slim pickings among the rest of Edmonton’s exposed players. That Seattle’s selection would come not from the unprotected Oilers, but instead be one of Edmonton’s UFAs was an unexpected development.

Edmonton Oilers Adam Larsson
Adam Larsson played five seasons with the Edmonton Oilers (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson)

Heading into the draft, Seattle was given 72 hours of exclusive negotiations with all UFAs. That Edmonton had not re-signed Larsson before this window was thought to be a strategic move, considering that doing so would have required the Oilers to include Larsson on their protection list, thus taking a slot that could be used for another player.

Situation Could Be Worse

Edmonton’s loss of Larsson is a massive blow, especially considering the lack of viable replacements set to hit the free-agent market on July 28. Larsson, who last season averaged close to 20 minutes of ice time per game as a fixture on the Oilers’ second pairing, had emerged the team’s premier shutdown defenceman. Playing all 56 regular-season games in 2021, he had 128 blocked shots, second in the league, and 166 hits, fifth among all NHL defencemen.

But it could have been worse. For instance, had Larsson signed with Seattle after the expansion draft or signed with another team not named the Oilers once free agency opened, the Kraken likely would have selected Benson during the expansion draft. In such cases, the Oilers would have lost the services of both Benson and Larsson. They least still have the former, and opportunity at a do-over on what could be called asset mismanagement.  

Succeeding in the Minors

Benson, who played junior for the Vancouver Giants in the Western Hockey League, was drafted 32nd overall (the second pick in the second round) by Edmonton in 2016. Since wrapping up his junior career in 2018, he has played only seven career NHL games, averaging just over 10 minutes of ice time during a stint with the Oilers in February 2020. Otherwise, he’s spent the last three years with the Bakersfield Condors in the American Hockey League, putting up 141 points in 156 games.

Tyler Benson Vancouver Giants
Tyler Benson played junior for the Vancouver Giants (Photo by Marissa Baecker/Getty Images)

As a first-year pro in 2018-19, Benson set a Condors’ franchise record with 66 points. Benson was named to the AHL All-Rookie Team and AHL Second All-Star Team in 2019 and earned a spot at the 2020 AHL All-Star Classic. This past season, Benson had 10 goals and 26 assists in 36 regular-season games. He scored the winning goal in the Pacific Division championship series, as the Condors captured the John D. Chick Trophy for 2020-21.

Benson Deserves Opportunity

Benson has proven just about all he can in the AHL – the Edmonton native is long overdue for a legit look in the NHL. Whether he can be a contributor at the next level is still to be determined, but the Oilers owe it to Benson and themselves to find out.

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The Oilers used a high pick in a deep draft to select Benson. They spent three years developing him in the minors. And after all that, Edmonton was about to lose Benson for nothing without even trying to get a return on their investments.

Edmonton has a notable lack of depth on left-wing, even if, as all signs suggest, the Oilers sign Toronto Maple Leafs free-agent Zach Hyman. Benson could fill a need, allowing Oilers general manager Ken Holland to dedicate resources to addressing other deficiencies in his lineup.

Whatever led to Larsson’s departure, Holland and the Oilers can’t do anything about that now. They’ve got a second chance with Benson. It’s up to Holland to take advantage of it.

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