While the Edmonton Oilers 2018-19 season was one to forget in terms of team success, it brought many headlines that are worthy of discussing from individual players at all three levels of play. Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl proved they are one of the most, if not the most, deadly duos in the entire NHL. Evan Bouchard cemented himself as an elite prospect, something the Oilers haven’t had many of lately. Finally, the AHL’s Bakersfield Condors instilled hope in the franchise by putting together a solid season, consisting of a 16-game winning streak and a playoff run. One of the pieces to come from the Condors was the 21-year-old phenom, Tyler Benson.
Benson was drafted in the second round, 32nd overall, in the 2016 NHL Entry Draft by the Oilers. This was seen as quite the steal, as he had just come off a season where he captained the WHL’s Vancouver Giants and scored 28 points in 30 games. However, his injury dropped his draft stock and eventually the Oilers opted for the talented hometown kid with the second pick of the second round. He then responded by putting up 42 points in 33 games in his first season after being drafted, along with 69 points in 58 games the next season.
While his WHL dominance was impressive, it’s safe to say his rookie AHL season was even more impressive. He put up 66 points in 68 games, putting himself in second place for AHL rookies only behind the Tampa Bay Lightning’s Alex Barre-Boulet. There is absolutely no denying he is talented and has dominated at every level play so far.
Injuries Still Remain a Concern
Benson didn’t go in the second round for no reason. This was due to the injury that left him out for the majority of his draft year. In his first WHL season after he got drafted, he only played three more games. In his final season, he managed to play in 58 games, still, 10 less than the WHL season consists of, and he missed another eight in his rookie AHL season. He has yet to show durability and that he can play a full season of hockey at a professional level, resulting in numerous questions about whether he’s, as fans deem, “injury-prone.”
While one can argue it’s bad luck, you have to question his conditioning and injury management. Many sports performance coaches swear by the kinetic chain, the notion that all joints and limbs in the body function in relation to each other. Just taking the example of a slap shot, it’s plenty more than just your arms that take part in this motion. Your hips rotate to create more torque, your legs plant to maintain balance, your head also helps maintain balance as well. Without everything working in harmony, the entirety of the motion fails to cooperate at full capacity.
So when Benson is recovering from these injuries, it could stem from bad luck. However, it could also stem from a lack of recovery and habits that create stress on certain parts of the body. Over time, this eventually results in more and more injuries with players having to compensate for damaged body parts. If he makes the team come October, this will have to be a focus amongst fans and team personnel.
Every Opportunity to Succeed
Benson is 21, scoring near point-per-game numbers in the second-best North American hockey league. Combine this with the Oilers’ lack of forward depth, and his fit on the Oilers is a match made in heaven. The left-wing could certainly find himself in the middle-six. His competition for a position stands at Sam Gagner, Alex Chiasson, and Joakim Nygard, while Draisaitl effectively has the first line position on lockdown.
This shift in the depth alone will make Edmonton a much better team. For perspective, the Oilers’ fourth-highest scorer last season was Darnell Nurse, who’s a defenseman. Keep in mind that he only had 41 points, these aren’t Erik Karlsson or Brent Burns’ type numbers that skilled forwards can’t even match. If Benson can even put up 30 points, that would’ve made him the fifth-best forward on the team last season.
If Benson ends up on a line with Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Chiasson, he could wind up having a rookie season to remember. If he doesn’t, his physicality and use of his frame will make him a solid third-line option. Either way, the Oilers get much-needed depth to relieve McDavid and Draisaitl from carrying more than 20 minutes a game. It will still be a question of whether Benson is actually NHL ready, but he’ll certainly get a shot this year at some point to prove himself. Only time will tell when it comes to Benson’s 2019-20 season in the NHL, but his impact can be the key to a much more successful Oilers season.