Most Leafs fans remember Brian Burke saying that Morgan Rielly was at the top of his draft board for the 2012 NHL Entry Draft. Many were concerned about the pick, as Rielly had only played 18 games in his draft year. A lot was up in the air. Would he develop properly post-injury? Was the point-per-game pace he was on only a short hot streak?
As we can see today, selecting Morgan Rielly with that pick seems to have been the right decision. A reach for Trouba or Lindholm, or catching Forsberg as he was falling, may have benefitted the Leafs more in the long run. But, Rielly has a promising future spearheading the Maple Leafs’ blueline.
For this upcoming draft, we have a similar situation in Tyler Benson.
Tyler Benson, in my impressions of him, is the definition of a two-way player. He’s definitely not the highlight reel player that you may see near the top of the ranks like Patrik Laine or Alexander Nylander, but he supplements this lack of flash with a sincere commitment to defensive play. He utilizes strong instincts and senses to read plays, break them up, and get back up the ice with the team.
Many scouts indicate that Benson’s skating needs work, which I wouldn’t disagree with. He also will need to continue to develop his defensive reads as his game progresses to higher levels of play. This is not always easy to do for players who are defensive stalwarts in Junior Hockey.
Another element of Benson’s game that I personally enjoy is his ability to control the puck in the offensive zone. He’s reminiscent of Lawson Crouse in that regard, with similar scoring numbers. And yet, because he’s about 4 inches shorter, he’ll be a late 1st or early 2nd round pick, instead of nearly a top 10 pick. Benson is especially confident in board play, a skill that will need to adjust to the much bigger and stronger players in pro leagues, but one he should be able to carry with him as he develops.
Corey Pronman said this about Benson in his ranking:
A former elite prospect for many years, Benson’s season was upended from several injuries to his lower body and back. Even when he was playing, he was at 50 percent at the best of times. Benson has great instincts, constantly finding seams to get the puck to his teammates or on net. “He never wows you,” said one scout, “but he’s always around the puck, making a good play.” Benson is a quality defensive forward with great work ethic in battles and solid overall positional play. He doesn’t shy away from throwing a hit and is strong on the puck. His skating isn’t superb, but I thought it was decent prior to this season, with the injuries probably accentuating the issues. He has the tools to be a top-six forward in the NHL, but there are big risk factors attached to making him a first-round pick as well. I’m banking on a recovery and a return to top form next season, but he’s clearly one of this class’ biggest wild cards.
And Andrew Levangle had this to say for his article in Mckeen’s Hockey:
A nifty player to watch handling the puck, however won’t wow you with spectacular 1-on-1 dangles .. Uses small areas effectively to develop space in order to make individual plays .. Lines up regularly as a left winger, and works better as a distributor of the puck, utilizing high-end accuracy on both his forehand and backhand passes .. Exhibits soft hands and heads-up play while adopting a quick-strike mentality .. Often uses a high stick grip, which creates a whipping wrist shot that comes off quick and appears hard to read.
Captain of the Vancouver Giants, this LW stands 6’0″ and weighs in at 182 lbs (according to eliteprospects.com). At the start of the season, Benson was being ranked in the 10-15 range on most draft rankings, even creeping into the top 10 on some. The Edmonton Journal even had him pegged as top 5 material in this piece in 2014. I remember Vancouver writer Rhys Jessop (@thats_offside) being especially excited about Benson early in the hockey season.
After suffering injuries to his groin and lower back in December, Benson missed the rest of the season after a few setbacks in his recovery.
This injury will undoubtedly worry some teams, but in my opinion, it’s not a good idea to add it as a knock to Benson. It could be beneficial to analyze Benson as a player and see whether his skill level pre-injury warrants a draft selection.
We can see Benson scored at an impressive pace for a 16-year-old in the CHL, putting up 45 points in 62 games, the 3rd highest total for a 16-year-old that season behind Brett Howden and Sam Steel.
His scoring pace continued to improve in his draft year, nearly putting up a point-per-game pace with 28 points in 30 games. However, less than a point-per-game isn’t really an elite level scorer for their draft year.
Age of a prospect is an often contested point. Benson is near the end of the draft year but not especially young, with a birthdate of March 15th.
Finishing the season, Benson ranks in the following places for different notable rankings:
|Corey Pronman||The Draft Analyst||NHL Central NA||Future Considerations||Craig Button||Hockey Prospect||AVERAGE|
I didn’t include NHL Central in there since that’s only relative to other North American skaters.
As with many late 1st round prospects, there’s a wide disparity on just where they should land. I don’t think it’s unreasonable to think that Benson at the Penguins’ 1st rounder or the Leafs’ second rounder would be a good selection.
DOES HE MAKE SENSE FOR THE LEAFS?
With a bit of a hole in their prospect pool at left wing, Benson would be a much-needed addition. I’m not totally certain he’s the 29th or 30th best player available, but he’d be very much in consideration for those ranking spots for me. I’d certainly be excited to see him suit up for the Leafs and add a possession-oriented winger to their prospect system.
Overall, Benson is a quality prospect that the Leafs will most likely have an opportunity to get at their two picks between 29th and 31st overall. I believe Benson would be a quality choice, but I think there will be choices of higher upside available in that range that the Leafs should pursue first.