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CONDORS: Benson's playmaking is 'his gift' says Woodcroft

Oilers 2016 second-round selection drawing comparisons to fellow needle threader and sauce master Leon Draisaitl

by Ryan Frankson /

BAKERSFIELD, CA - Both the Edmonton Oilers and Bakersfield Condors were blessed to have one of their respective league's top playmakers in their lineup this season.

In addition to finding the back of the net 50 times and establishing himself as an elite-level goal-scorer, Oilers all-star Leon Draisaitl set a new career high for assists with 55 and has had 45 or more in each of the last three seasons.

Down on the farm, the Condors had rookie forward Tyler Benson threading the needle to his teammates on a regular basis on his way to a 51-assist season, becoming one of only five AHL players and the only rookie to hit the 50-helper mark in 2018-19.

Condors Head Coach Jay Woodcroft, who previously spent three seasons as an Oilers assistant marveling at Draisaitl on a nightly basis, sees a lot of similarities between the German sensation and the budding Edmonton native.

"(Tyler) has high-end skill at this level to find the open man, similar to what Leon does at the National Hockey League level," Woodcroft said following Wednesday's practice at Rabobank Arena in Bakersfield.

"They both have the ability to pass on their forehand and on their backhand. I think (Tyler) sees plays two or three steps ahead, which allows him to anticipate where his teammates will be."

That expertise was on full display last Saturday as the Condors beat the Colorado Eagles 5-2 in Game 4 to win their first-round series of the Calder Cup Playoffs 3-1.

To set up the game's opening goal, Benson sauced a brilliant forehand pass from just before centre ice right onto the stick of streaking winger Mitch Callahan, who crossed the blueline and converted on the partial breakaway. Benson also assisted on Brad Malone's insurance marker to give the 21-year-old two helpers in four playoff games thus far.

Video: Callahan's breakaway finish 04.27.19

"Benson is special," Woodcroft said. "That's his gift, his ability to find the open man, and he's shown that right from Rookie Camp all the way through the first round of the playoffs." 

The 32nd-overall selection from the 2016 NHL Draft will look to continue his contributions in the AHL's Pacific Division Final against the San Diego Gulls, which starts with Game 1 on Friday in Bakersfield.

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