The 2015-16 season started as well as left wing Tyler Benson could have hoped with a gold medal at the Ivan Hlinka Memorial Cup during the summer.
Unfortunately, no hockey player likes to peak in August.
An injury-marred season limited Benson to 30 games with Vancouver of the Western Hockey League. NHL Central Scouting has him at No. 24 in its final ranking of North American skaters, but he's one of the question marks heading into the 2016 NHL Draft at First Niagara Center in Buffalo on June 24-25.
"It's frustrating because I was pretty excited about the year, excited about the team," Benson said.
Benson's problems began during the 2014-15 season when a cyst was found on his tailbone. He didn't have any issues at the time but an MRI taken before the start of training camp with Vancouver led doctors to believe the best course of action was to have the cyst removed surgically.
Benson missed the first month of the season but scored a goal in his first game. He had eight goals and 26 points in his first 28 games but began feeling pain in his groin and hips. He was diagnosed with osteitis pubis, an inflammation around the pelvis where the pubic bones meet, which results in chronic groin pain.
"It affected my skating a lot this year," he said. "[It] was getting to the point where walking was painful. I had to stop."
Benson's last game was Dec. 30, and other than a two-game comeback in February, he missed the remainder of the season.
That included the 2016 CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game in his home rink in Vancouver.
"Would have been pretty cool too play in that," he said. "Would have been a fun experience. But getting to watch and see my teammate [forward Ty Ronning] play was a good experience."
Benson tried to stay involved, attending home and road games to support his teammates, but admitted it was tough, especially when Vancouver finished last in the WHL Western Conference. He tried to make the most of his time watching.
"The biggest part it helped me with was the off-ice habits," Benson said. "How to take care of your body, how important your body is to be able to compete in the games. ... I learned a lot. How to be smarter, how to take care of my body. It's a positive for sure."
Because of Benson's injury, scouts never got the chance to see him at his best. He showed flashes, with 28 points in the 30 games he played. He also helped Canada win the gold medal at the Hlinka tournament and tied for the team scoring lead with five points in four games.
"When he is on his game, Tyler plays a hard, physical game with skill," Central Scouting's John Williams said. "Not what you would consider a power forward because he is just average in size (5-foot-11, 197 pounds). Real good hands. Can score and make plays. Certainly has an edge to his game."
Benson said he'd like to improve his skating, but most importantly show teams that he's healthy. His injury was a frequent topic of conversation during the NHL Scouting Combine.
"The big thing for them this year is they want to know how my injury is, if it's going to affect me in the future," he said during the combine. "With my osteitis pubis I'm dealing with now, I'm still working on it. Right now, it's the best I've felt all year.
Benson felt strong enough to complete all the fitness testing during the combine. More than any results, the fact he was medically cleared to participate in them sends a positive signal.
Benson plans on sending another one next season. He's already set some impressive goals, among them being a key offensive contributor for Vancouver. But one stood out among the others.
"I want to play 72 games [a full season] next year."