Unlike the Ontario Hockey League, where players have to wait until the end of their minor midget season to get drafted into junior hockey, Western Hockey League players get an earlier start. Now, players are only allowed to suit up in five games as a 15-year-old (until your regular team is eliminated from the playoffs), but that still gives them a chance to prove themselves before really making a big impact in major junior.
Some guys, such as Tyler Benson, know how to wow people at a young age. In fact, he’s one of the best players to come out of bantam hockey in Alberta in a very long time. A native of Edmonton, Benson set the Alberta Major Bantam Hockey League scoring record of 131 points in a season back in Alberta in 2012-2013 (he finished with 146 points in 33 games, 15 more points than Ty Rattie’s previous record). His 230 points split over 66 games is the second most ever in the history of the league, beating out the likes of Kale Clauge, Brayden Point and Tyler Ennis.
With Benson lighting up bantam hockey, the Vancouver Giants were impressed enough to make him the first overall selection of the 2013 WHL Draft. With some slick competition behind him, such as Dante Fabbro, Nolan Patrick and Sam Steel, Benson had to be a big time option for the Giants.
With his time in Vancouver still a season away, Benson had a tremendous 2013-2014 Midget season with the Pursuit of Excellence U18 team, putting up 37 goals and 95 points in just 49 games while playing against older, stronger competition. His play earned him a spot on the Canadian Pacific team for the World Under 17 Challenge, grabbing the silver medal to take home with him. Benson would cap off the season by winning the Western Canada Challenge Cup Gold Medal and getting named to the first All-Star team for the North American Prospects Hockey League. Not a bad way to end your pre-junior career, is it?
Benson’s seven game stint with the Giants that year was impressive enough to help him earn a full-time job with the club this past season. During his campaign with Vancouver, Benson proved to be a remarkable play-maker, finishing the season with 31 assists and 45 points. It was a good start for the youngster, whose Vancouver team finished last in the B.C. Division of the WHL.
The past few months have been quite memorable on the international stage for Benson. In April, playing as one of just three skaters on Canada that are available for the 2016 Draft, Benson put up four points in seven games while really improving as the tournament went on. Benson was so impressive in that bronze medal-winning tournament that he was given a very key role in early August for the Ivan Hlinka Memorial Tournament, an event that saw him get five points in four games to help lead his team to their eighth straight tournament championship.
A fast, skilled forward, Benson, while more of a play-maker, is notable for having the ability to score on either wing. He has great hands, a great release and can move around the ice at quick speeds both in the offensive zone and the defensive zone. His passing, of course, is what really takes the cake for him. Benson’s ability to find pretty much anyone is similar to what Mathew Barzal was capable of heading into the 2015 NHL Draft. A game changer, look for Benson to be a dominant force for his age in the WHL this year as he transitions into a two-way superstar.
Benson is going to be a fun player to watch heading into the draft. In fact, he’ll likely battle for the top scoring spot on Vancouver this year. With the CHL Top Prospects game taking place in Vancouver as well, it’s going to be interesting to see if that adds any extra motivation down the stretch. Benson is a good bet to become a top ten pick in the NHL Draft next summer, and in two or three years from now, Benson could be a candidate for rookie of the year in the strongest league in the world.
Steven is a junior hockey reporter for the Oakville Blades of the Ontario Junior Hockey League, and also focuses on international hockey for his website, TheHockeyHouse.net. You can follow Steven on twitter @StevenEllisNHL.
Photo from vancouversun.com