The Edmonton Oilers have a number of holes they need to address this summer and not a whole bunch of cap or assets available to make it happen. Some of the options need to come within the organization and Tyler Benson could help the cause.
It was frustrating watching the Oilers select Tyler Benson 32nd overall at the 2016 NHL draft when only a few spots later the Chicago Blackhawks selected Alex DeBrincat at 39. DeBrincat was a teammate of Connor McDavid’s and it made complete sense that Edmonton should pursue him. Last season, DeBrincat scored 28 goals and had 52 points in his rookie campaign while Benson played his first healthy season since being drafted by Edmonton.
Benson had injury issues in his draft year, causing him to fall out of selection in the first round and those injuries continued to be an issue for him up until last season. The past is the past however and Benson is now starting to look like a real prospect for the Edmonton Oilers.
The AHL is a tough league to play in, especially for younger players. The league is a mismatch of young up and coming talent, NHL vets trying to get their legs back under them, and older players whose NHL days are either behind them or simply will never happen. It is the closest North American equivalent to the NHL game and pace and success in the AHL matters, especially if you are able to have that success at a young age. Being a point-per-game player as a 21 year old, is much more impressive than doing so as a 28 year old.
All of this makes Tyler Benson as his 15-51-66 rookie season in the AHL, playing 68 games all the more impressive. Benson finished second in rookie scoring and was named to the 2018/2019 AHL All-Rookie Team. The only rookie who produced more than the 21 year old Benson was 22 year old Tampa Bay prospect Alex Barre Boulet who had four more points, going 34-34-68 but also played 71 games. It’s also worth noting that Boulet was second on his team in scoring, behind 23 year old Carter Verhaeghe who had 82 points. Third on the Syracuse Crunch was 28 year old Cory Conacher with 64 points. The fact that Benson finished first on the Condors in scoring above 21 year old Cooper Marody and 24 year old Joseph Gambardella says something as well.
Edmonton lacks depth on both the right and left wings. The team’s current best winger is Leon Draisaitl, with all evidence pointing to he and McDavid sharing a line once again next season. With RNH being the pivot on the second line, the likes of Kassian, Gagner, Puljujarvi, Lucic, and likely Chiasson are the next players on the depth chart to fill out spots in the top 9. New addition from Europe Joakim Nygard should also fit in this category.
None of these players should be considered a lock in the top 6. Last season the Oilers hoped at least a couple of these players would grab the reins and establish them-self as an option in the top 6. Ultimately no player was truly able to do so, though Kassian did start to look like an option closer to the end of the season.
All of this is a long way to say that Tyler Benson certainly has a chance to prove himself in training camp and establish himself as an NHL forward. At 21, he is not a bright eyed 18 year old who is still growing into his body. It is not uncommon at all to see other forwards in the NHL take the same path as Benson, playing an extra year in the WHL, OHL, etc and then playing a full year in the AHL before making the jump to the NHL.
The wing depth is weak in the NHL and Benson is a talented young player. Holland may like to leave prospects developing in the AHL long term but if Benson shows strong early, the Oilers GM should consider him as an option.
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