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FUTURE WATCH: Bouncing back

Oilers forward prospect Tyler Benson is off the road to recovery and focused on re-establishing his presence on the ice

by Meg Tilley @MegsTilley / EdmontonOilers.com

Video: MINORS MINUTE | Beck's Highlight

Everything happens for a reason.

Though we may not comprehend the 'why' when we're first faced with challenges we didn't expect, eventually, time makes up for that misunderstanding.

That may very well be the case for Oilers forward prospect Tyler Benson, Edmonton's second-round pick, 32nd overall, at the NHL Draft in June. 

"[That was] a special feeling," said Benson. "Growing up in Edmonton, cheering for the Oilers, now to be a part of the organization it's a pretty exciting moment for me."

Last season, Benson was limited to just 30 games with the Western Hockey League's (WHL) Vancouver Giants due to injuries, which may be the reason why he fell to number 32 in the draft after initially being anticipated to go midway through the first round.

But the delay in hearing his name didn't faze the 18-year-old. In fact, it may be considered an unexpected and welcomed surprise, having been selected by his hometown NHL team.

 

"I was just really happy, got to hug my family - they were there with me - and just to share that moment with them, it was special," said Benson. 

In August 2015, during the first on-ice session of Giants training camp, Benson left a workout early due to discomfort. That led to the discovery of a cyst and a scheduled surgery in September to remove it, which resulted in the left-winger missing the first 10 games of the season.

Though he returned to action in October, playing in 28-straight games, the Edmonton native ran into a nagging lower-body issue that pulled him off the ice in December.

He rested for several weeks, which included missing the CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game, and played two more games in late February before having to submit. 

"It just got to a point where [the pain] was too much, I couldn't play anymore and the team and myself just shut me down for the rest of the year," said Benson. 

Although there was some concern over Benson's health in his draft year, Edmonton saw a lot of potential in the young left-winger, deciding to take a chance on him, and it looks as though it's paying off.

On Monday, the WHL announced that Benson had been named the WHL Player of the Week for the week.

He registered five goals and three assists for eight points in four games to help the Giants post four-straight wins during a road trip through the Central Division.

On October 10, he put forth a first-star effort with a goal and three assists in a 5-3 win over the Calgary Hitmen, then followed up with a goal in a 2-0 win over the Edmonton Oil Kings the next day, and capped off a 4-3 overtime victory against the Lethbridge Hurricanes three days later, providing three of his team's goals and earning second-star recognition.  

"It feels good," he said, pleased with both his return and the Giants overall progress in the 2016-17 season thus far. "It feels good to be able to play healthy again. It was a frustrating year last year - frustrating start to the season - but I'm happy to be back playing hockey with my team." 

A frustrating start to the season, indeed.

A few days prior to departing for Edmonton for Oilers Rookie Camp and the Young Stars Classic in Penticton, BC, Benson sustained a shoulder injury in his final pre-season game with the Giants.

He was listed as day-to-day from the outset but, unfortunately, missed the entirety of the tournament, taking part only in practice in a non-contact sweater both in Penticton and later at Oilers Main Camp.    

"It was [still] a good experience," he said. "I wasn't able to play any games but just to practice with some pros and be able to be on the rink with them was a good experience and hopefully I can carry on and take it into next year."

Though it's been a rough start, the up-and-coming forward phenom has garnered a lot of attention, dating back to his Bantam days playing with Edmonton's Southside Athletic Club Southgate Lions.

In his last season as captain, Benson recorded 57 goals and 89 assists for 146 points in 33 games with SSAC and set an Alberta Major Bantam Hockey League record when he had a 10-point night with two goals and eight assists. He also led the team to Alberta and Western Canadian AAA championships.

"That whole year with my team, that year was just a very exciting year," he said. "We had a lot of success that year, personally and team-wise, so it was just a lot of fun. Our team was able to win the championship that year… our team just had a lot of chemistry and everyone was putting up points."

With a record-setting season under his belt at the ripe age of 14, Benson, was drafted first overall by the Vancouver Giants in 2013 and was considered a serious candidate to be granted the WHL's first Exceptional Player status - something that had only been granted to five junior players before him: Johnathan Tavares (2005), Aaron Ekblad (2011), Connor McDavid (2012) and Sean Day (2013) of the OHL, and Joseph Veleno (2015) of the QMJHL.

Benson chose not to apply for exceptional status. Instead, he elected to go the prep school route and attended the Pursuit of Excellence Hockey Academy in Kelowna, BC, for the 2013-14 season.

"Me and my family never really discussed it," explained Benson. "It was talked about but we never really wanted to apply for it. Just being able to develop for another year before going into the WHL was a good year for me and it just made me better." 

This allowed him to get accustomed to living away from home and further his development so he could make an easy transition to major junior hockey the following season.

Well immersed into his third WHL season with the Giants - having collected 82 points (26G, 54A) in 106 career regular season contests - Benson is currently tied for second on the Giants in scoring with nine points (5G, 4A) through seven games this season.

"Right now I'm feeling good, I'm feeling healthy," he said. "My shoulder's healthy now and I haven't had anything pain-wise from last year."

Benson may have been temporarily derailed, but the young prospect looks to finally be back on track.

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