Beyond Tomorrow: Giants’ Benson seeks to excel at the WHL level

By David Hahn
Tyler Benson - Vancouver Giants

Photo: Vancouver Giants forward and 2016 prospect Tyler Benson is currently tied for sixth in rookie scoring in the WHL with 39 points in 50 games (courtesy of Marissa Baecker/Getty Images)

 

Tyler Benson’s name has become synonymous with success in the scouting world. One in-person viewing confirms that he passes the eye test, as the athletic and supremely talented forward has excelled at every level. Then, another look at the numbers paints a portrait of a player who has the world on his shoulders.

Playing with the Southside Athletic Club as a bantam player at just 13 years old, Benson posted 34 goals and 50 assists in 33 games to set the tone for his future. Despite the obviously productive season, Benson had his sights set on the Alberta Major Bantam Hockey League’s scoring record. That designation was held by St. Louis Blues prospect Ty Rattie, who scored 131 points in 33 games for the Airdrie Xtreme. Benson surpassed that record the following season, scoring an astonishing 57 goals and 89 assists in 33 games as a 14 year old. He led his team that season to Alberta and Western Canadian Triple-A championships and was named the AMBHL’s Most Valuable Player.

That performance started to raise some eyebrows in WHL front offices, but questions still remained in regards to his level of competition. Benson moved up from bantam to midget hockey, landing in Kelowna, BC to play for the Pursuit of Excellence Academy who boasts alumni such as Curtis Lazar, Justin Schultz, and Dalton Thrower. There, he again excelled to the tune of 37 goals and 58 assists to go along with 128 penalty minutes.

Benson began to gain a reputation as a player that simply would not be denied, often displaying his willingness to score by driving the net and playing a power game. Much like the year before, it would again culminate with a championship as Benson led Alberta to a Western Canada Challenge Cup gold medal. His performance during this season erased all doubt and put Benson in the conversation for the WHL draft.

Sitting with the first overall selection in the WHL Bantam Draft, the Vancouver Giants had a franchise-altering decision to make after a disappointing season. The Giants made Benson their pick, opting to go with him over Sherwood Park forward Sam Steel and Duncan’s defenseman Josh Anderson. Benson was recalled late in the season as an underage call-up, able to play five games in the WHL and potentially more following the conclusion of his midget season.

His first game came during a break in November against the Tri-City Americans. While he did not score in the game, Benson looked ahead to one matchup in particular. His brother, Cole Benson, is a role player for the Edmonton Oil Kings and they hosted Vancouver late in the season, one of Benson’s memorable debut games. Benson did not register a point in seven games before an unfortunate MCL sprain ended his season right before the WHL playoffs.

Entering this season, his first full year in the WHL, Benson aimed to prove that the Giants made the right decision in drafting him. Late in September, Benson scored his first WHL goal in spectacular, coast-to-coast fashion, showing an early flash of his talent. Often paired with Edmonton Oilers prospect Jackson Houck, the duo has kept Vancouver afloat in their fight to make the playoffs. To date, Benson has scored 13 goals and 26 assists in 50 games, with a +5 rating and 47 penalty minutes as the Giants are holding onto one of the last playoff spots in the Western Conference.

The accolades this season are not just related to WHL action, as Benson was named to the World Under-17 Hockey Challenge in Sarnia, ON where Benson unfortunately suffered an upper-body injury that kept him out of four games upon his return to the Giants.

Eligible for the 2016 NHL Draft, Benson has already generated significant buzz. Having drawn comparisons to Jamie Benn, Patrick Marleau, and Brendan Gallagher, Benson has been trusted in many situations. He has been a penalty killer, has been rated as one of the most physical players on the team, and has been a strong possession player.

Often under the microscope, Benson is deserving of the praise that previously eluded him. His name has come up in draft discussion among a strong WHL crop that includes the previously mentioned Sam Steel, vying for attention with a strong crop from the United States that includes Auston Matthews, Max Jones, Matthew Tkachuk and others.

Tyler Benson has succeeded at every level along the way, most of the time as the youngest player on the team. He is used to succeeding against insurmountable odds, continuing to prove that he belongs at each step of his development. With a potential playoff run ahead of him and an entire season to go before NHL teams truly put the microscope to the 2016 draft class, Benson has plenty of time to persuade executives to make him a top five pick.

Follow Dave Hahn on Twitter via @DHahnHockey