Tue. Nov 24th, 2020

By The OilKnight 01/31/2020

~

Well, it finally happened. After seemingly months of anticipation and frustration towards the Oilers for not calling up prized prospect F Tyler Benson, he was recalled by Edmonton yesterday along with D William Lagesson.

~

BACKGROUND

If you’re not familiar with the player, Tyler Benson was selected in the 2nd round of the 2016 NHL Draft. Despite being a highly touted local kid, there were many fans and draft enthusiasts who thought at the time that Alex DeBrincat would be the logical choice for the Oilers if he was still on the board at pick #32. Playing in Erie with Connor McDavid, DeBrincat had a monster rookie season registering 51 goals & 104 points. After McDavid moved on to Edmonton, DeBrincat followed up in his draft year with another 51 goals & 101 points without Connor. He was exactly the kind of pure scoring winger Edmonton lacked and he already had a proven chemistry with their new franchise player so it seemed to be a natural fit. 

But the Oilers decided to pass on ADB and stick with the Edmonton born Benson instead, despite him only registering 23 goals and 73 points in his 2 year WHL career up to that point (he missed half of his draft season due to injury). It was a risk at the time as all draft picks are, but one that has haunted some Oilers fans up to the point. Fair or not, many fans have patiently waited for Benson to “arrive” while they watched DeBrincat excel for the Hawks. Now that he has finally been recalled, there will undoubtedly be comparisons between the two for years. But, Benson has the opportunity to make fans forget about all that as he embarks on his NHL career. He has been trending up following a terrific rookie AHL season last year, where he averaged a point per game as a rookie. This season, he was on a similar pace and has shown he is ready for the big show. Now he gets his chance, and Oilers fans couldn’t be happier. 

~

EXPECTATIONS

It’s tough to know what to expect from Benson initially as he begins his NHL career. From a scouting standpoint, he is a terrific passer with great vision and is a player with a bit of “jam” to his game. He also appears to have a hockey IQ and has been very good on the Powerplay throughout his AHL & WHL careers. But, speed & explosiveness appear to be lacking a bit which may limit his effectiveness as a high end offensive player. However, given the fact he is a smart, savvy player and the relative ineffective play of James Neal at even strength for the Oilers, how ironic would it be if he ends up playing with McDavid?

Regardless of where he is placed in the lineup, it’s probably best to temper expectations. After all, he will be an NHL rookie and it may take 20-30 games to adjust to the speed of the Pro game. Plus, Edmonton has the #1 PP in the league so Benson is unlikely to see any time there anytime soon. But, reports are Joakim Nygard will be out for a lengthy period of time so that means Benson should at least get the opportunity to figure it out in the NHL for awhile. The offensive production might not come right away, but if he can play a solid 2 way game and chip in on the scoreboard a bit like Nygard did – it will help. Considering what’s going on with their 1st round pick of that same 2016 Draft, I think Oilers fans would more than happily take that at this point.

~

TRICKLE DOWN EFFECT

So what does this mean for the Bakersfield Condors? After all, Benson was their leading scorer, Top PP producer and leader among forwards in time on ice. The team already lost Kailer Yamamoto earlier this year, and are now without 3 key defensive players from last season in Ethan Bear, Caleb Jones & William Lagesson. Not to mention, G Shane Starrett was out with an injury for several games and has been slow to get back to form since returning. Who’s left to step up and fill the big shoes left by all those departed players? Answer: The kids.

You could easily argue the 5 most talented players left on the Condors are the 5 youngest players on the Condors – Evan Bouchard, Dmitri Samorukov, Kirill Maksimov, Ryan McLeod & Stuart Skinner. All 5 have taken their lumps as they have adjusted to minor pro, but all 5 have shown significant progression since the beginning of the season.

~

Skinner, has become the main man in net and is on a roll for the Condors – posting a .930 SV% in his last 10 games. He was also named the AHL player of the week after going 3-1-0 with a 1.50 GAA and .946 SV% before the All-star break. He looks big, confident, and ready to carry the load for Bakersfield down the stretch towards a playoff run. 

courtesy of BakersfieldCondors.com

~

Bouchard, was named to the AHL All-star team and has really come into his own recently, especially as the Powerplay quarterback for the Condors. One of the big knocks on Bouch was his defensive play, but there has been significant improvements there too in particular on puck retrievals and gap control. He should be the #1 Dman for Bakersfield moving forward and we should see continued improvement as his confidence soars.

~

Samorukov, was out for a bit with an injury but appears to have regained the confidence he had before he missed some time. He has already taken strides in the defensive part of his game, and there is always going to be a bit of flair from him offensively. His ice time should go up due to injuries both in the AHL & NHL.

~

Maksimov, has also made major improvements since the beginning of the season. While his offensive numbers haven’t been where anticipated, his usage has been very limited up to this point. He excelled with Ryan McLeod on the PK earlier in the season, and did get a bit of PP2 time before the All-Star break. However, he needs to shoot the puck more and with Benson moving on to Edmonton, there is an opening at the left half wall on PP1 – a position he thrived on in Junior. He is the most offensively gifted player on the team he just needs to gain confidence. Putting him in more prime offensive situations should help do that.

~

McLeod, has shown off his skating and 2 way game all season. What’s also been apparent is his willingness to engage physically has gone up. He’s alternated between LW and C this year so is a candidate to take Benson’s spot on the Top line at even strength. You’d still like to see him compete harder in the dirty areas & go harder to the net but he’s progressing and should see more ice time because of it.

~

~ ~ ~

It’s exciting times for Oilers fans as they’re finally seeing promising prospects contribute in meaningful ways at all levels. With the exception of Lagesson, don’t expect last season’s key players to return to the AHL anymore. The old core from last season is now gone, but this new core is just as talented. Now that they’ve had half a season to adjust to minor pro, they are ready to take the next step. Draft and develop has been nothing but a theory over the years, but it appears the Oilers brass has FINALLY gotten it right. A lot is expected of the youth now in Edmonton but don’t worry – the kids will be alright.

~ ~ ~

~

To comment please do so via Twitter @TheOilKnight