Tyler Benson: The real deal
|Photo by Codie McLachlan/Edmonton Sun/QMI Agency|
Here's all you need to know about Benson and the season he's had in Alberta Bantam AAA: coming into Sunday's game at the Millwoods Recreation Centre, he needed at least four points to maintain his record-setting pace and ridiculous points-per-game average.
In a 9-1 win over Edmonton's Knights of Columbus, Benson posted a goal and four assists. In 19 games this season, he's now collected 36 goals and 91 points.
St. Louis Blues prospect Ty Rattie, an Airdrie, AB product currently starring with the WHL's Portland Winterhawks, holds the single-season record with 131 points. Benson is not only on pace to beat the mark, but shatter it and blend the remains.
Sidney Crosby entered the NHL labeled as 'The Next One.' Connor McDavid, who's now playing in the Ontario Hockey League at age 15, is along the same path since ‘The Next, Next One' has emerged in some reporters' vernacular.
Those weigthy words have been used to describe 2013 draft eligible prospect Nathan MacKinnon, too.
While those comparisons (and expectations) are lofty, Benson's play has earned it. 6:22 into Sunday's game, after he'd already recorded four shots on K of C goaltender Vince Benedetto, No. 17 picked up his first of five points on the night.
Wheeling off the goal line with a heel-on-heel pivot to the slot (does that remind you of someone who wears No. 87 for the Pittsburgh Penguins?), Benson spotted Josh Paterson at the lip of the crease.
In large part, K of C controlled the pace early on. But that all changed when Benson hopped over the boards -- the Lions became hunters, you might say.
At 5'11” and 180 pounds, Benson is one of the bigger bodies at this level. He's not shy about dishing it out, either. In the corners and in the tougher areas of the ice for goal-scorers, Benson continually puts himself in a position to physically overpower his opponent. As you can imagine, he draws a bit of attention.
Benson has already proved he's an elite playmaker at the bantam level, but it seems to me there's still some untapped potential as a speedy, power-forward-like goal-scorer. He has speed to burn and a release well beyond his years.
Just ask Benedetto, who unintentionally stopped a Benson bullet with his head three minutes in.
With the amount of scouts and bright hockey minds in attendance to watch him play, Benson isn't at all caught up in the pressure. And that's a good thing considering he's already established a loyal following.
But he's still a kid. Step 1 is the WHL bantam draft next spring, in which he'll most likely be chosen with the top pick. Due to his age, however, there's no guarantee that he'll play in the WHL next season -- but I'd bet on it, considering the circumstances and promise in Benson's career.
A lot can change in four years; Benson isn't NHL draft eligible until 2016. But while projections that far in advance are difficult, if not impossible, one thing's for sure: Benson is already a star at this level and likely will be at the next one, too. So while there's currently a work stoppage in the NHL, there's certainly no shortage of excellence to get excited about.
And in this case, it's a local product making the noise.
-- Ryan Dittrick, edmontonoilers.com | Follow me on Twitter @ryandittrick