It might be now or never for Tyler Benson and the Edmonton Oilers.
Just like with Cooper Marody, who I talked about yesterday, Benson is going to be waiver eligible this fall. If he doesn’t crack Edmonton’s roster out of camp, the former No. 32 overall pick will have to pass through every other team in the league in order to be sent down to the Bakersfield Condors.
Benson is a player Oilers fans have known for quite some time.
He made a name for himself very early on, setting the Alberta Bantam AAA scoring record in 2012-13 by scoring an absurd 146 points over the course of 33 games. He was the top pick in the subsequent WHL Bantam Draft and was labeled as a top prospect in his eventual draft season.
It was Ty Rattie’s record of 131 points that Benson broke that season. Like Rattie, Benson would go on to become an early second-round pick in the NHL, where he ultimately flamed out as a player who could produce in the AHL but couldn’t hack it at the big league level.
Benson has shown he can be a very productive player at the AHL level, but he hasn’t yet earned a full look at the NHL level. Will this year be the year? Or will Benson follow in the footsteps of Rattie as somebody who plateaus as an AHL standout?
Position: Left Wing
Date of Birth: March 15, 1998
Drafted: 2016, No. 32 overall (EDM)
Weight: 190 lbs
Benson’s career has been a rollercoaster ride.
He had that aforementioned record-breaking season in Bantam, was selected No. 1 overall by the Vancouver Giants, and put up 45 points in 62 games in his rookie season in the WHL. 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.
In his draft year, Benson was limited to just 30 games due to injury and he recorded 28 points. He didn’t play for Team Canada at the World Juniors and the combination of injury and mediocre production took a toll on his draft stock. Despite that, the Oilers leaned into his skill and potential and took Benson with the No. 32 overall pick in 2016.
His post-draft season was also riddled by injury, as Benson put up 42 points in 33 games. Finally, in 2017-18, Benson was healthy, but his production still wasn’t what you’d have expected from such a highly-touted prospect, as he recorded 69 points in 58 games.
It was when Benson turned pro that he really put himself back on the map as a top prospect.
In his rookie season as a pro, Benson played a key role on a very good Condors squad, leading the team in scoring with 66 points in 68 games. Benson continued to play well for the Condors in 2019-20, scoring 36 points in 47 games. He earned himself a cup of coffee with the Oilers that year, but produced only one point in seven games.
From an eye-test perspective, the issue with Benson when playing with the Oilers is exactly what scouts had been critical of him for over the years, which is that he lacked top-level speed and he would struggle to keep up with the speed of the NHL. While Benson’s excellent smarts and playmaking skills were noticeable, he also appeared to be a step behind the play more often than not.
That brings us to 2020-21. When North American hockey was paused, Benson played in Switzerland’s second league and did very well, scoring 19 points over 15 games. He joined the Condors when play resumed over the pond and continued to produce, scoring 36 points in 36.
We know by this point that Benson can produce at every level other than the NHL. The question is whether his game will translate to the top level.
This fall, Benson will be eligible for waivers, so he either cracks the Oilers out of camp or another team will have an opportunity to take him for free. As I mentioned with Marody yesterday, plenty of players make their way through waivers each year, but there’s obviously no guarantee a team won’t take a stab at the former No. 32 overall pick.
Edmonton’s top three left-wingers will likely be Zach Hyman, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, and Warren Foegele, while Devin Shore appears poised to play on the team’s fourth line and Brendan Perlini is in the mix for a gig. There’s more depth here than there has been in the past, so it won’t be easy for Benson to crack through. He’s going to have to need to put together a strong showing in camp to make 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.