Heading into the 2015-16 season, everything was looking up for Tyler Benson. After being drafted first overall by the Vancouver Giants in the 2013 WHL Bantam Draft, he was widely expected to replicate that result at the next level and be an early-first-round selection when the NHL Draft came around at the end of the year.
Things didn’t get off to a good start when he learned he needed surgery to remove a cyst near his tailbone just prior to the start of the season. Despite being sidelined for the first month while recovering from that ailment, he was still projected to go near the middle of the opening round when he returned in late October.
Whether the result of lingering issues with that recovery, or the effect of having his pre-season preparation derailed, he had difficulty getting into the swing of things, and left many scouts wondering where the player they’d seen in previous years had gone.
Birthplace: Edmonton, Alberta
Position: Left Wing
Weight: 197 lbs.
Lauded for his all-around ability and relentlessness, Benson often seemed reluctant to engage in the play this year. Part of the reason he was ranked so highly was his determination on the forecheck and using his exceptional lower-body strength to remove an attacking player from the puck in the defensive zone, and that ability was not witnessed on a consistent basis.
Showing not only no improvement, but a seeming regression in his play, Benson slowly dropped down the ranks as the games ticked away.
That’s not to say he had a terrible season. He still showed off his powerful legs in transitioning the puck up ice and would sometimes offer glimpses of his NHL-calibre two-way ability.
His play remained intact in the offensive zone, where he used his top-end stickhandling ability to create scoring chances and set up his teammates with accurate passes. He has the ability to send the puck exactly where he wants it to go, and the decision is often to thread it through traffic to a teammate streaking toward the goal. When he has neither an open lane to move the puck through nor a screened path to the net for a quality shot, he will fire the puck low off the goaltender’s pads and hope an onrushing forward can bury the rebound.
Despite his lower-body strength and good hands, he hasn’t been able to take advantage of his quick, accurate release to put up big goal totals since his Midget days. By the end of December, he had just eight goals, but 18 assists in the 28 games he’d played. Of his assists, 14 were registered at even strength, and 10 were primary helpers, highlighting his ability to drive the offence. In fact, he finished 10th in the entire WHL in even-strength primary assists per game among players who played at least 10 games, and was the second-youngest member of that group (behind 2017-eligible Kailer Yamamoto).
That performance was good enough to earn Benson a position in the CHL Top Prospects game, for which he was was named a team captain for the match that took place in his home arena.
Then, the injury bug reared its head once again, knocking him out of action at the end of the calendar year and forcing him to miss the prospect showcase. It wasn’t until late February that he returned to play following what was suspected to be a groin injury. He scored a goal and added another assist in his first two games back. Unfortunately, those also turned out to be the final two games he was able to play in his draft season, as he shut himself down for the rest of year after re-aggravating his injury.
There will be many questions about his play this year for NHL management staffs. Was his inconsistent effort the result of his injury troubles, or was it a sign that he may not have as much promise as originally thought? Clocking in at less than a point per game in his draft year, is that enough to justify the use of a first-round pick? And was this injury-plagued season an anomaly, or will he be a player who struggles to stay in the lineup?
Future Considerations (June, 2016)
Benson struggled with injuries for most of the season, however, I’ve never had a viewing of him where I didn’t come away impressed. Benson is built for the pro game as he has a deep understanding of the little things required to win. Plays an excellent two-way game and is a leader on the ice. There are some concerns with his offensive game, however, I think those concerns are slightly overblown. He has quick hands and understated offensive awareness. While Benson will likely never be the offensive focal point on a NHL team, he is the kind of character player who teams win championships with.
Andy Levangie, Hockey Prospect Black Book (June, 2016)
I left the rink a few times wondering if his lackluster games were a result of his battles with injuries. For me he was way more consistent in his rookie season and I always wanted to give him the benefit of the doubt in that regard. He has the ability to take over games with physicality and skill, but it didn’t happen enough for me this year.
ISS Hockey (June, 2016)
Benson has a lot of tools to be an NHL player, however he has suffered and injury-plagued season and only played 30 games. Benson is a guy who is going to give it his all every shift and in all three zones. Has good size and strength and plays with a physical edge and competitiveness.
Future Considerations: 29th
ISS Hockey: 55th
Central Scouting service: 24th (North American skaters)
Hockey Prospect: 30th
The Draft Analyst: 29th
The Montreal Canadiens may be less fazed by the health concerns than other clubs. This past season the team saw a player who dropped to third in 2012 after playing just 41 games in the two seasons before the draft score 30 goals and become the top-line centre. Artturi Lehkonen and Charles Hudon, arguably the team’s two best prospects, were also players who slipped down the board because of injury concerns. Most recently, the team took Lukas Vejdemo in the third round of 2015’s draft after he had an injury-shortened draft year, and were quite surprised that he was still available at that point.
Benson has a good chance to make the NHL just on his 200-foot game alone. When he’s on his game, his assertive effort without the puck and his finesse play with it would translate to a good professional career.
A player who started the season as one of the safest bets to turn into an NHL regular, with at least a third-line role projected for him, now has some wondering if that potential will be reached. Is he destined to become the player he’s shown to be capable of, or will injuries and inconsistencies prove his downfall?
With that debate going on at all 30 tables on the draft floor, Tyler Benson will be an interesting one to watch.