Tyler Benson entered the season as someone who could hear his name called in the Top 15 of the 2016 NHL Entry draft, but injuries derailed his season before it even began.
Now the former first overall WHL bantam pick finds himself falling in draft rankings simply because there are too many questions marks for a player that had very few to start the year. Our consensus rankings have him holding onto one of the final first-round spots because we think there is enough talent for a team to take the risk.
Benson checks in as the 29th ranked prospect in our consensus rankings.
- Age: 18, 1998-03-15
- Birthplace: Edmonton, Alberta, Canada
- Frame: 6’0″, 201 lbs.
- Position: LW
- Handedness: L
- Draft Year Team: Vancouver Giants
- Accomplishments/Awards: 2015/16 CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game (named to team, but did not play due to injury), Ivan Hlinka Memorial Gold Medal (15/16), U18 WJC Bronze Medal (14/15), U17 WJC Silver Medal (13/14)
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Benson is a strong, grinding winger who possesses both excellent passing ability and a quality shot. Strong along the wall and able to bully his way through traffic, Benson is willing to battle through to the open slot and can be difficult to handle in front of the net for smaller defenders. Benson is a capable two-way player that can be counted on to play in all situations, and has been a catalyst on a weak WHL team, though he lacks elite offensive instincts and shift-to-shift consistency at this stage in his development. Not blessed with top end speed, Benson could increase his overall effectiveness by improving his two-step quickness and keeping his feet moving at all times.
A powerful kid who uses both his brains and skill to outplay his opponent. He has some skating issues that will need work, but is hard to contain down low and can really be dangerous deep in the offensive zone. He just owns the boards, protects the puck and wills himself to win most one-on-one battles. His shot is pro caliber, and he needs little space or time to put the puck in the net.
Without a doubt, Tyler Benson’s draft season has gone in the complete opposite direction of what he had originally hoped. Benson had tonnes of hype coming out of bantam after the Vancouver Giants selected him first overall in the WHL Bantam draft in 2013, which made sense since he posted a whopping 146 points, including 57 goals, in 33 games during the 2012-13 season there.
He only saw a handful of games with the Giants during the 2013-14 season, as they hoped he would further develop and round out his game before making the leap to the WHL full time. He had a good D-1 season in 2014-15, posting 45 points in 62 games. Benson followed that campaign up with a trip to the U18 World Juniors in April 2015 and showed very well. Although he only posted 4 points in 7 games, he was regarded as one of the better players on Team Canada. They only lost one game the entire tournament, to the United States, and walked away with a bronze medal.
Benson looked poised to breakout in his draft season, he was physically mature and had a full season of WHL experience. The Giants were rightfully excited about their top player for the upcoming season, naming Benson captain before the season began.
Things then went off the rails.
On August 26th, during the Giants first on-ice session, Benson left the workout early due to discomfort. He then had surgery on September 9th to remove a cyst from near his tailbone. That surgery resulted in him missing the first 10 games of the season.
He returned to action on October 23rd and played in 28 straight games. The Edmonton native, was sent home from a road-trip because of playing through pain. He rested for seven weeks, which included missing the CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game. He played two more games in late February before having to shut it down for the season.
Benson had been suffering from an inflamed pubic bone, which is believed to be caused by trying to over-compensate from his previous injury. In an interview, Benson admitted to Steve Ewen from The Province, that “I don’t know how many games I can say I felt good in. Maybe that game against Kamloops after I took two months off might be the only one”.
With the Giants hosting the Top Prospects game, the Edmonton native was the face of the whole event and having to miss it was likely a deflating moment. Many scouts made the trip with hopes of seeing Benson live.
The in-depth explanation of his injuries and tribulations are key to provide context for what Benson went through this season. Quite simply, he was never quite right.
When we look at the point per game chart for Benson, we see a massive dive in his point production from his third game to his seventh game. This is quite common for players returning from an injury that occurred in the off-season. They don’t have the same endurance and their timing is off, thus hit a wall after the adrenaline of their return wears off. Also, their competition and teammates have already been playing for a few weeks, so everything about their game is a little behind. What is promising, is how quickly he gets back up to a PPG pace, and that isn’t even factoring in the pain he was playing through.
Another important part of Benson’s past season, was that the Vancouver Giants were not very good this past season. With the return of Benson in late October, they made a few trades acquiring players like Trevor Cox and Ben Thomas with hopes of making a push for the playoffs, unfortunately they were still regularly exposed. However, Cox and Benson did play well together when both in the lineup.
With all that being said, there is a reason why Tyler Benson was in the conversation as a possible Top 15 or even Top 10 pick before the season began. He has an NHL calibre shot, that he is able to get it off with limited time and space. His playmaking abilities are his calling card though, he has a knack for finding his teammates in a good spot. This goal from Chase Lang in early December is a good example:
— Ryan Biech (@ryanbiech) December 3, 2015
I wouldn’t regard Benson’s skating as good, but it isn’t terrible. I’ve mentioned in previous profiles, that as long as a player is starting from an adequate starting point, skating is a workable skill. Look no further than Canucks centre Bo Horvat. Skating is one of the most important skills needed to make the transition to the NHL, and Benson could keep up but there is room for improvement.
Benson protects the puck very well, has the hockey sense and patience, to battle through the checking to create space. He can then thread the pass through to his teammates for chances.
During the 2014-15 season, there was concern that Benson was trying to do too much. He was trying to do everything out there, holding onto the puck too long while taking low percentage shots. It appeared he didn’t trust his teammates. That seemed to carry over to the early parts of this season too. He may have felt that he needed to make things happen, and showcase his skill during his draft season. But that didn’t last long, as his shortened season went on, he used his teammates more. As we saw in his P/GP chart, he saw a serious uptick in offensive production during that time too.
23 of Benson’s 28 points or 82%, this season were primary points
When we look at Benson’s pGPS, a very respectable 32.5% went onto becoming NHL regulars. That percentage is based solely on the pace he set in his 30 games. A very important point here is if he wasn’t playing through injury, continued his upward trend in production in more games or didn’t see a slump – he likely would’ve rated much higher.
When profiling at Benson, that’s the problem. He was limited to 30 games, where he was battling through injury and playing on a WHL team that eventually missed the playoffs. Where would he have ended up if he didn’t have those three things working against him?
Where he goes on draft day is anyones guess. Any team looking at selecting the young winger will need to have access to his medical records to ensure that his ailments are a thing of the past. Benson says that he feels the most healthy he has all year, which is promising, but a team investing such a high pick in Benson will need to verify that he is fully healthy.
There is also ‘recency bias’ – Benson hasn’t played any games since late February, which was only two contests, and prior that he hadn’t suited up for seven weeks. There are countless other players who have played well enough over the second half of the year to see their stock rise, and Benson would be a logical candidate to fall simply because he hasn’t played.
One of the teams in the 25-30 range of the first round may feel that Benson is worth the risk. If they don’t, then maybe someone in the 30-45 range does. Or he could keep falling, with teams hoping to snag him in the late second or early third.
If I am a team selecting in the early second round and his medical records check out – you would have to think very long and hard about taking him. You are getting a player who was leaps and bounds better than his peers until this season, who just had too many things go wrong for him. If those medical reports confirm what Benson is saying about being fully healthy, how can you not?
He checks all the boxes from a scouting perspective, pGPS looks very favourable on him, even when we only have a shortened season as the basis. Finally healthy, it’s not crazy to think that he will go back to the WHL next season and look like a completely different player.
You just have to weigh that risk, do you want to be a team that swings and misses on Benson? Or do you want to be that team who in a few years thinks – “We should’ve taken him”
That sounds like a very difficult decision.