Tyler Benson started the weekend with two helpers on Friday night in Ontario. He added another at home on Saturday against the Iowa Wild. Three points in two games pushed the 2016 second-round pick to 32 points (8-24-32) in 35 games.
Benson had 66 points (15-51-66) in 68 games a season ago. When you combine that season and a half, Benson has settled in as a nearly point-per-game AHL forward who brings two-way skills to the table. He’s an impact player at the minor league level. The only thing left for him to do is make the jump to the NHL.
Benson will, without doubt, make his NHL debut this season barring injury. I’d wager that Benson will make his debut at some point this month. When he eventually gets recalled, will Benson be here to stay?
The Yamamoto Effect:
Kailer Yamamoto has five points (2-3-5) in six games since getting recalled from Bakersfield in late December. He looks like a completely different player than he did in 2017-18 and 2018-19. Yamamoto is more confident, has been winning puck battles and has built a chemistry with Leon Draisaitl.
The time in Bakersfield has done Yamamoto well. Jay Woodcroft and company have built up his confidence, and Yamamoto looks like the player that the Oilers were expecting when they picked him in the first round in 2017. His speed, skill and tenacity has made a difference.
The Oilers have to hope that the extra time for Benson makes a difference, just as it has with Yamamoto.
Where Would Benson Fit?:
To me, if you are are recalling Benson, it is to play a top-nine role. It makes no sense to recall him and play him on the fourth line for eight minutes a night.
If Zack Kassian receives a suspension later today, and I expect that he will, Benson could replace Kassian on the top line. He’d get a chance to play with some serious skill in Connor McDavid and James Neal, and he could play his natural position of left wing. Neal can shift back to right wing, something he did earlier in the season.
It’s also possible that the Oilers trade or waive Jujhar Khaira. The power forward has struggled mightily this season at five-on-five. He’s been a drag on possession and his line has routinely been outscored. Unfortunately, Khaira has been a liability this year.
It’s unfortunate, because Khaira can play a valuable role. He’s a strong penalty killer and provides the functional toughness that teams crave in the modern NHL. If he could regain his form from 2017-18, we’d be having a different conversation.
Benson could replace Kassian during his suspension, or he could replace Khaira on a new look third line.
When the lineup is fully loaded, the Oilers could run this group of lines and improve their chances.
James Neal – Connor McDavid – Zack Kassian
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins – Leon Draisaitl – Kailer Yamamoto
Tyler Benson – Gaetan Haas – Alex Chiasson
Joakim Nygard – Riley Sheahan – Josh Archibald
Yamamoto gave the Oilers a much needed boost when he was recalled in December. He’s given the club a consistent second line winger and has produced offense for the club at rates that are consistent with a top six role.
The Oilers are still lacking depth up front. If they want to make the playoffs, they will need to add at least one more competent forward. Benson has provided the Condors with strong play for a season and a half. He’s tracked well as a prospect, and is also a good player away from the puck.
The Oilers haven’t rushed this player. If anything, they’ve left him on the farm too long. That’s not a bad thing, you’d rather have him developing in Bakersfield as opposed to drowning in Edmonton.
Benson’s time to make the jump to the NHL is now. He’s proven he is an impact player at the AHL level and the Oilers have a need on the big club. Yamamoto payed immediate dividends for the club. It’s time to see if Benson can fill one of the other holes in Dave Tippett’s lineup.
You don’t know what you have until you try it out. It’s not like Benson could play worse than Khaira has at five-on-five in recent weeks. Give it whirl, you may just end up with a long-term answer to the top-nine depth issues.