The Edmonton Oilers have made minimal improvements to a roster with multiple holes. For fans of the club, and quite frankly for the team’s playoff chances, that’s bad news. For prospects trying to break into the NHL, that’s very good news. Tyler Benson, who is coming off of a strong rookie pro season in the AHL, is first in line to take advantage of Edmonton’s quiet summer.
Benson, after an injury-riddled junior career in the WHL, finally enjoyed a full year of health in 2018-19. The results were positive, as Benson played in 68 games for the Condors and registered 66 points. That was good for second in the league in rookie scoring, behind only Syracuse’s Alex Barre-Boulet.
By points-per-game, Benson was fifth among regular rookies with a mark of .97. Benson was only behind fellow Condor Cooper Marody, Drake Batherson, Dillon Dube and Troy Terry. All four of the players ahead of Benson are considered legit NHL prospects, with Terry and Batherson likely to make their respective teams on opening night.
There’s no reason Benson shouldn’t be in that same conversation. His strong AHL season was one of the best by an Oilers’ prospect in recent memory. His season was one of the best by a 20-year-old AHL’er in recent memory as well. Benson isn’t likely to be a game-breaker in the NHL, but he went to Bakersfield and was an impact player in that league at 20.
Benson only scored 15 goals in the regular season, adding 51 assists to hit the 66 point mark. His goal scoring struggled in the first half of the season, but showed real signs of life in the second half. In fact, Benson scored ten of his 15 goals in the season’s final three months. He started to figure things out and improved as the year went on.
The postseason wasn’t as kind to Benson, but he still produced at a good level. He ended the ten game run with seven points (1-6-7). He was one of the team’s better forwards during their battles with Colorado and San Diego in the Calder Cup Playoffs.
Benson’s scoring was at a level in the AHL that would project him to be an NHL’er in relatively short order. He’s got NHL speed, is solid along the wall, and excels as a playmaker. A member of a Pacific Division rival told me he thinks Benson is awfully close to NHL ready as is. His overall game is good enough, and the offense passed the test in 2018-19. The only question is how fast he can adjust to the higher level of competition.
Benson will not be handed a job in training camp. Expectation is that Holland is still looking for forward options via free agency. In addition, the club is shopping Jesse Puljujarvi and could get a roster forward in return. PTO’s will be an option as well, and I wonder if Thomas Vanek comes to town on a tryout in two month’s time.
Benson will not have a clear path to a roster spot, but he showed very well in the AHL a season ago. He’s close, however, and will get a real chance to make the team this fall. If Benson pushes and earns his way to the NHL, the club should not hold him back just for the sake of it.
This is a good player who should fill a middle-six role in the NHL during the heart of his career. If Tyler Benson proves he is ready for the NHL this fall, he should make the club. He’s a viable option, and I’d argue will be a better offensive option than players like Jujhar Khaira and Milan Lucic in 2019-20.