Tyler Benson’s career has been a rollercoaster ride.
From generating buzz at a young age for setting the AMBHL’s all-time points record to struggling through injuries with the Vancouver Giants in the WHL to looking like a key part of the Oilers’ future after a breakout rookie season in the AHL to now sitting in purgatory. There have been a lot of ups and downs.
This time last year, Benson didn’t seem far away from capturing a role in Edmonton’s top-six which desperately needed talent on the wings. But after the team signed Tyler Ennis and Dominik Kahun, Benson has seemingly fallen out of the conversation for a spot on the 2021 Oilers.
What’s next? When will Benson get an extended look at the NHL level? Will he reach the potential that made him the No. 32 overall pick in the 2016 draft?
Position: Left wing
Date of Birth: March 15, 1998
Drafted: 2016, No. 32 overall (EDM)
Height: 6’0″ / 183 cm
Weight: 192 lbs / 87 kg
Benson’s name is one many Oilers fans have known for quite some time. Back in 2012-13, he put together an insane season playing Bantam AAA in which he recorded 146 points in 33 games. That still stands as the best season in AMBHL history.
The Vancouver Giants took Benson with the No. 1 overall pick in the WHL Bantam Draft that year. The hope for Benson was that he would follow the path of other No. 1 overall Bantam Draft picks like Jay Bouwmeester, Gilbert Brule, and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and go on to become a top NHL draft pick.
Benson put together a strong rookie season in the WHL, recording 45 points in 65 games on a very bad Giants team. The following year, Benson appeared poised for a breakout offensively, but injuries derailed his season. He ended up scoring just 28 points in 30 games.
Despite that, the Oilers still took Benson with their No. 32 overall pick at the 2016 draft, opting to buy into the talent that ultimately made him the top pick in the WHL draft. This was a controversial decision at the time because the Oilers left Alex DeBrincat, Connor McDavid’s former teammate with the Erie Otters, on the board.
Benson’s post-draft seasons in the WHL were fairly underwhelming. His 2016-17 season was again ravaged by injury and, when he finally was healthy in 2017-18, he put up a good-not-great showing of 69 points over 58 games.
It was Benson’s play when he turned pro that really put him back on the map as a top prospect. In his rookie season with the Bakersfield Condors, Benson exploded for 66 points in 68 games and seven points in 10 playoff games. That showing shifted Benson’s narrative from ‘the guy who got drafted instead of DeBrincat’ to ‘legit top prospect’.
But while his rookie production in the AHL indicated a future as a point-producing winger in the NHL, there was still some skepticism as to whether Benson could make the transition to the big-leagues. The knock against Benson since he was drafted has been his skating.
Benson boasts a big body, the grit and tenacity to win puck battles, and excellent vision that allows him to make some incredible passes in the offensive zone. Speed is the one thing that he lacks and it’s generally the thing that holds AHL producers back from ever finding their groove offensively in the NHL.
We saw both ends of the spectrum for Benson during his seven-game cup of coffee with the Oilers back in 2019-20. The speed wasn’t there and Benson did look like he was a step behind the NHL pace, but he compensated by playing a smart, well-positioned game and he impressed with a handful of brilliant outlet passes in transition. All told, he didn’t make much of an impression, but he didn’t look out of place either.
Eventually, Benson will get an extended chance to prove himself at the NHL level, but it probably won’t be in 2021. Ken Holland has loaded the Oilers’ roster with quality NHL depth so we’ll no longer see prospects thrown into the deep end. As of right now, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Dominik Kahun, Tyler Ennis, James Neal, and Joakim Nygard appear to be the five Oilers on the left wing. It’ll take a handful of injuries for us to see much of Benson in an Oilers uniform in 2021.
The key for Benson this season will be proving that he can be part of the solution for the Oilers come 2021-22. The fact the NHL is moving towards operating with three scoring lines bodes well for Benson as he can ideally step in and produce offence while playing a sound two-way game on the third line.
The long-term hope, of course, is that Benson can reach his potential as a productive, top-six forward on a skill line. But earning a gig in the bottom-six is the place to start, and Benson has to put together a good 2021 season in order to prove to the organization he’s ready for it.
For reference, players who I consider to be “prospects” for this countdown are skaters who have played fewer than 50 NHL games and goaltenders who have played fewer than 25 NHL games. I’m basing the rankings on a combination of upside and the likelihood of reaching that potential.