When the Vancouver Giants visit the Edmonton Oil Kings, it’s always a special road trip for local product Tyler Benson. A chance to see his family and friends is always refreshing, but this time around, getting the opportunity to take the ice at Rogers Place meant a little bit more to the 19-year-old.
This isn’t just any other WHL arena anymore. This is the rink where Benson hopes to one day become an impact forward with his hometown NHL team.
The Edmonton Oilers took Benson in the second round (32nd overall) in the 2016 NHL Draft. When I spoke to Benson the other day, you could tell how special it was for him to be able to put on the orange and blue at the draft.
“I grew up an Oilers fan, wearing their jersey and cheering them on, and so did my family, so being able to put it on for the first time like that was a special moment,” Benson said.
Since draft day in 2016, things haven’t exactly gone according to plan. After missing over 30 games due to injury in his draft year, Benson would go down again in the following season with an unrelated injury, which caused him to miss close to 40 games.
I asked if he was back to 100 per cent. He wouldn’t go that far.
“I still get little aches and pains, nothing too serious,” he said. “We’re getting close. I’m working hard every day to make sure I feel as good as I can on the ice”.
Even though he isn’t in perfect health, Benson is still having a nice year with the Giants. His 41 points in 29 games isn’t exactly an elite number by WHL standards, but you can tell he values playing at both ends of the ice. That attention to detail in his game is something that might help him transition to the pro’s, where he hopes to be next year.
“It’s always up to the Oilers, but I’m going to push myself this summer to make sure I’m ready to play at the pro level,” Benson said.
Getting in a full summer of training will be important as well, especially given how his past injuries have sort of stunted his development.
“Last summer, I had two surgeries so I wasn’t even able to train. So if I’m able to focus on my game and not worry about injuries, it would improve my game a lot,” Benson said.
When asked if there was one aspect of his game that he felt really needed to improve before he could become an NHLer, he had a clear answer: “I want to be able to improve my skating, last summer I wasn’t able to improve that part and it was frustrating.”
Even if everything goes to plan, Benson is far from a lock to crack the main roster next year. As far as spending time in the AHL goes, he realizes that could be what’s best for his long-term growth.
“From what I’ve heard the AHL is a very tough league,” he said. “Obviously, I want to play in the NHL, but if they (the Oilers) think the right path for me is to start in the AHL, I’ll gladly do it”.
Another thing we talked about was all the skill that sits atop the Oilers depth charts. With the likes of Jesse Puljujarvi, Kailer Yamamoto and other already established NHLers already on the team, it won’t be easy to pry away playing time. As far as the skilled young forward core that the Oilers have, Benson doesn’t necessarily see that as a challenge, but more of another reason to continue to work hard and one day be apart of the promising group.
“Seeing the players they have now, to be able to play with them and learn from them would be great.”
For now, his focus remains with the Giants and trying to close out his WHL career with a productive and healthy second half of the season. The Giants currently have the fifth most points in the WHL, so there is a chance we could see Benson take the Vancouver team he captains on a deep run into the WHL playoffs.
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