Deem: Making the case for Tyler Benson

TSR Features | 25 Apr 2013

Benson had nothing short of a dominant season, breaking Ty Rattie’s previous records that many considered to be untouchable.

When the Vancouver Giants announce the 1st Overall pick in the 2013 WHL Bantam Draft it’s unlikely there will be much suspense. Yes, it’s safe to say that you can jot down May 2nd as the day 15-year-old phenom Tyler Benson claims top honours in the annual WHL gateway. Phenom is a term that should be not used loosely but in the case of Benson, it is certainly deserved.

This past season, Benson obliterated Ty Rattie’s Alberta Bantam points record en route to a tidy 146-point season; in only 33 games. In fact, Benson has been so impressive that it has led to a debate - could the youngster play as a full-time underager in the WHL during the 2013-14 season?

As is the case with anything, it may be best to look at a recent history of the league’s #1 overall picks. Perhaps the most comparable case would be the #1 overall selection in the 2008 WHL Bantam Draft, former Red Deer Rebel Ryan Nugen-Hopkins. “RNH” is currently starring for the NHL’s Edmonton Oilers, after also being selected first overall in the 2011 NHL Entry Draft. Nugent-Hopkins scored 119 goals and 214 points in 66 games in the PCBHL prior to being selected by the Rebels and would appear in the league limit of 5 games as a 15-year-old, scoring an impressive 2 goals and 6 points in his short stint with the team. Since Nugent-Hopkins, the first overall picks in the draft read as follows: Derrick Pouliot (2009, Portland), Alex Forsberg (2010, Prince George), Jake Virtanen (2011, Calgary), and Mathew Barzal (2012, Seattle). Of those four players, only one (Barzal) did not make his debut in the WHL as a 15 year old, however none had the same impact as Nugent-Hopkins in their brief underage appearances.

In 2012-13, Benson obliterated Ty Rattie’s Alberta Bantam points record en route to a tidy 146-point season; in only 33 games.

There are three measuring sticks that anyone must take into consideration when bringing up this kind of discussion. The first, clearly, would be the player’s skill level. In the case of Tyler Benson, I think that there is absolutely no doubt that this player could immediately step into the WHL and be competitive as a 15-year-old. Anyone who has watched him play will tell you that he is a special type of athlete, with above average vision, great hands, and tremendous speed. Benson far outmatched his foes in every aspect of the game, all season long.

The next thing that should be discussed would be mental fortitude. Benson is known for being mature beyond his years, including in his ability to speak with the media while exuding professionalism at such a young age. He is very willing to give credit to his teammates over himself and speaks with a calm confidence. The last thing – and perhaps most important to those making discussions against underage players in the league – would be physical preparedness. Certainly, a 15-year-old will typically struggle when matching up against a 20-year-old, but the 5-foot-11, 180-pound Benson is nearly average size for a WHL forward.

What does it all mean? In the case of the Western Hockey League, they have already made clear that they are against granting exceptional status to allow players to play in the league a year early. Essentially, for that reason, the argument is moot either way. The Vancouver Giants are certainly going to be getting a valuable asset at this draft, one that could immediately make them a more competitive team. Unfortunately for the Giants – and the fans of the WHL – they will have to wait a full 16 months to see him make his impact.

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