“Fight for what you want.”
That’s what’s written in the bio of Tyler Benson’s twitter feed, and it’s right on point when you consider his journey to the 2016 NHL Draft.
He’s the captain of the Vancouver Giants and a skilled, plucky forward who’s been through a lot of adversity.
Once considered for exceptional status to play in the WHL as a 15-year-old, Benson’s out to prove he was worthy of the hype.
Here’s a detailed look at his career to date.
Age on June 24: 18
Current Team: Vancouver Giants (WHL)
Position: Centre/Left Wing
Weight: 201 pounds
NHL Central Scouting Rank (North America): 24th
Jeff Marek’s Take: Unfortunately, injuries became the story for the former first overall pick in the WHL draft. A good playmaker with good vision. Will a team step up and take him earlier than expected based on all the promise he’s shown?
If Benson’s name was on the tip of every scout’s tongue heading into the 2015-16 season, it’s because he had done remarkable things and progressed steadily up until that point.
For instance, in 2012-13, Benson broke an Alberta Major Bantam Hockey League record (set by St. Louis Blues forward Ty Rattie) by registering 57 goals and 89 assists for 146 points in just 33 games.
Dubbed “the Next One,” Benson then went first overall in the WHL Bantam draft. He was a shoo-in to receive ‘exceptional’ player status to join the league as an under-ager but decided to skirt that opportunity in order to play for the Kelowna Pursuit of Excellence Program before joining the Vancouver Giants for seven games at the end of the 2013-14 season.
He was a standout with the Giants in 2014-15, recording the third-most assists among rookies (31) in the WHL. And he had a very good start to the 2015-16 campaign, recording 28 points in 30 games.
But the injury bug…
…has followed Benson around since 2014.
First it was an MCL-sprain that limited him to just those seven games with the Giants in 2014. Then, after scoring five points in four games for Team Canada to help them win the Ivan Hlinka Tournament, Benson had surgery to remove a cyst from his back, which kept him from starting the 2015-16 season with his teammates.
Nagging lower-body injuries limited him until he was sidelined again in January. Benson was then named captain of Team Cherry for the annual CHL Top Prospects game, but he couldn’t participate.
In February, the doctors shut Benson down for the remainder of the season.
“It’s very disappointing for all of us that Tyler had to miss so much time this year,” said Giants majority owner Ron Toigo in a press release. “At the same time, we need to do what’s best for his long-term health, and we know that he’s going to be an important player for our team going forward as well as a great addition to an NHL organization.”
He’s got a strong all-around game
The Giants named Benson captain as a 17-year-old because in addition to being a prolific scorer, he had shown his willingness to play hard at both ends of the rink.
One NHL scout told Sportsnet’s Andrew Eide that he loves Benson’s 200-foot game.
“He plays a heavy game with a good skill set that reminds me of [San Jose Sharks forward] Logan Couture,” said the scout. “Good vision and sense, does a good job generating offence on five-on-five.”
Looking up to big brother
Tyler’s brother Cole had a four-year WHL career with the Edmonton Oil Kings.
“He helped me a lot at a young age,” Tyler told Yahoo! Sports. “He helped me know what to expect in hockey … And I got into hockey because I enjoyed watching him when I was little.”
Tyler can also take his cues from Cole on the golf course.
Frustrating year affects draft ranking
Benson’s been playing under significant pressure since garnering so much attention as a 14-year-old in bantam. But the pressure he faced this season as captain of the struggling Giants—especially given his injury situation—understandably got to him a little.
“I felt okay when I was playing,” Benson told Yahoo! Sports. “I wasn’t at 100 per cent when I was playing, so it was frustrating sometimes.”
Had Benson been at his best, he probably would’ve been ranked higher than 21st among North American prospects when NHL Central Scouting’s midterm rankings came out. Had he not missed the entire second half of the season, he most certainly would not have dropped down to 24th.
But if there’s one thing to really like about this player aside from the unbelievable production he had before injuries slowed him down, it’s his attitude.
“Whether it’s the first round or the seventh round, it doesn’t really matter,” he said. “My main goal is to play in the NHL and I just need the opportunity to do that.”