The months of July and August can be absolutely awful for hockey fans. Outside of the odd low-level signing and minor league trade, there is absolutely nothing for fans to spend their time on.
Perhaps that is why we call this time of the year the “silly season”. We are all so starved for hockey content that we resort to outlandish and foolish ideas just to discuss something related to our teams.
It is also the time of year where fanbases are the most hyped about their teams, Oiler fans included. If you’re an optimistic like I have been for the past few years, you always bet on fringe NHL prospects breaking into the league and lighting it on fire. This is the year it all finally changes....right!?
I remember the summer of 2018 being just like this. I thought “We’re bare on the wings but Puljujarvi will figure it out and it’ll be fine!”...oh how wrong I was.
I’ve learnt a little from that experience. The NHL is a cold and dark place that won’t give teams like Edmonton any favours. Which is why I wanted to discuss Tyler Benson in this post.
I’ve noticed Benson’s name floating around my Twitter timeline quite a bit recently. The person to blame for this sudden uprise in mentions is David Staples of the Edmonton Journal. Who recently tweeted that Benson is ready for third line minutes in the NHL.
Many folks treating Tyler Benson like he is 18 year old rookie.— David Staples (@dstaples) July 7, 2019
He is 21.
He killed it in AHL.
He is ready for NHL third line.
Now, I have tremendous respect for Mr. Staples, but I can’t help but think that we’re entering the stage of summer where we get a tad bit ahead of ourselves. I love Tyler Benson, but I wouldn’t be pencilling him into the roster quite yet.
Let’s discuss why.
Benson’s Breakout Year
It’s not like there isn’t any merit to the “Benson will make the NHL roster next season” discussion. The 21-year-old Edmonton native had a very impressive rookie season in the AHL with the Bakersfield Condors.
In 68 AHL games, he was nearly a point-per-game player with 15 goals and 66 total points. It was a nice development for Benson, who has had an injury plagued career in the years leading up to this past season.
That production was good enough to land him in 2nd for rookie scoring in the AHL as well as a spot on the league’s all-rookie roster along with teammate Shane Starrett. To add to his accolades from last season, Benson was also named rookie of the month in the AHL for March.
There is definitely a case to be made that he could be better than any of the current winger in Edmonton’s top 6, save Draisaitl. So, naturally, he is being heralded as one of the players that could make the jump into the NHL next season. He sits atop of the Oilers forward prospect list at the moment, edging out Kailer Yamamoto.
Pumping the Brakes
While Benson has performed far and above expectations in his first professional season, I think it is premature to talk about him making the Oilers roster.
The American Hockey League is a fantastic league that is very good at developing player, but good production in the AHL does not guarantee immediate success in the NHL. We have seen players like Anton Lander and Jesse Puljujarvi thrive in the AHL but struggle to adjust at a higher level.
Benson is only 21-years-old and is coming off his FIRST ever season of professional hockey. It is far too early on in the summer for us to be projecting him to be the player that will save our top 9. It is definitely not out of the question that he starts the year with Bakersfield and is seen as a midseason call-up.
We also have to take into account Benson’s past injury history. Is throwing him into the NHL right away going to put him at risk? Given that Holland went out and acquired bottom 6 forwards in free agency make a third line option, there doesn’t seem to be any rush in fast-tracking Benson to the NHL.
I understand that the offseason is a time where we are all grasping at the next big Edmonton Oilers story. Tyler Benson is an attractive subject during this time because of his seemingly high potential, but at the end of the year it has only been one season of good hockey.
The Edmonton Oilers have failed these past few years because they have been throwing big money down on players “rebounding” or “suddenly emerging”. It is time that the team stops placing these high-risk bets on unproven NHL talent and start acquiring proven talent to allow these guys to develop at a proper pace.
Benson is a fantastic player in the Oilers organization and, depending on how he shows in training camp and preseason, he could very well make Edmonton’s NHL roster in October. I am not arguing that.
What I am saying is that it is premature to say that a 21-year-old kid who has 0 NHL games in his career WILL be on the roster next October.
Slow down, wait it out, and lets see how he does in training camp. I hope Benson absolutely lights it up.