EDMONTON, AB - A return home for the Oilers from a two-game road trip will award the hometown kid his first opportunity.
Tyler Benson, the Oilers second-round selection from 2016 and product of the South Side Athletic Club, will make his NHL debut against the San Jose Sharks on Thursday night with countless friends and family in attendance at Rogers Place.
"I'm not too sure yet, but I'm sure there's going to be a few out there," Benson said from the Oilers dressing room pre-game. "It's definitely been a dream of mine for a very long time cheering for this team growing up, so now the time's come to be able to wear the jersey in a game,"
"It's going to be special just having my family be there for me. It's going to be awesome."
The 21-year-old has been up with the big club for three contests despite a lack of game time up to this point, receiving plenty of runway to get acclimated to his new Oilers teammates and strategies.
"He's excited, obviously," Head Coach Dave Tippett said of the rookie. "He's been around our team for a few days now and he's a great kid with lots of enthusiasm. We've been wanting to get him in, but with the way the schedule's gone and the games have gone, we haven't got him in. But he's anxious to go tonight and we'll see what he can do."
Tippett wasn't keen to toy with a winning formula that yielded points in tough back-to-back wins over the Stanley Cup Champions and a provincial rival before the Oilers were shut out in the Coyotes' Den by Arizona on Tuesday.
"We didn't even talk about that game," Tippett said. "There are some games where you look down your lineup and you don't have any juice. It was one of those games where we didn't have much there.
"Other than Koskinen, there wasn't one guy where we said 'that guy played well tonight'. So you just chalk that up, move past it, and our guys had some energy this morning which was good."
The Sharks - nursing long-term injuries to important contributors like Logan Couture and Tomas Hertl - may not be in the playoff picture, but a 3-1 win over the Calgary Flames last time out is a reminder that any game in the Pacific Division is a difficult task.
In a crowded postseason race, the Oilers aren't expecting any free passes.
"You're playing against a hungry team, they have a lot of young players in their lineup, and we have to recognize we're in this playoff hunt," Tippett said. "We played three really emotional games, hard games, didn't play well against Arizona, and we have to get back to playing well. That's our goal for tonight."
TICKING 'TY' BOMB
Benson has bided his time.
From extended injuries to an extended stay with the Bakersfield Condors over the last two seasons, where Benson produced 28 goals and 94 assists for 122 points in 132 AHL playoff and regular-season games, the left-winger will finally get the call.
"It's definitely been a long road, but it definitely makes it more special to get to this point," Benson said. "I feel ready for it, I'm excited, and I'm just going to do the best I can out there tonight."
There's a palpable excitement from his Oilers teammates to see the local kid play for his hometown team for the first time, along with what he'll be able to produce on the ice in his first crack at the NHL.
"I'm excited for him. Getting a chance to play your first game and then having it be at home, it's pretty special for him being an Edmonton kid," Sam Gagner, who'll line up with Josh Archibald and Connor McDavid tonight, said.
"I got a chance to play with him a little bit down in Bakersfield, and I think he's just a really smart player. He makes a lot of really smart plays and is really good with the puck. The other parts of his game have come a long way. I think he should bring a lot to our lineup and I'm looking forward to see him tonight."
Benson is the 11th Condors player in the club's AHL era, and seventh in the last two seasons, to make the jump to the Oilers having already seen the likes of Ethan Bear, Caleb Jones and Kailer Yamamoto come up and have sustained success.
"I guess it just starts with the coaching staff down there," Benson said. "They help us out a lot with the little details in the game. They've prepared us for it. I'm going to do the best I can. There's a lot of guys who've come up from Bakersfield and had success, so I'm just going to try and do my part."
Benson will slot in on the Oilers fourth line with Gaetan Haas and Alex Chiasson, being eased into the lineup and the NHL game before hopefully climbing the ladder in a similar manner to a forward-comparable in Yamamoto.
"He's (Yamamoto) been a pro for a couple of years now, he understands the rigours of a schedule, he understands how teams win and going up and down the lineup," Tippett said. "He's not starry-eyed here. He's here with a purpose to do well in the NHL and that's what he's doing.
"We believe a young guy should come in and get his feet wet. We did the same thing with Yamo for a game and he took off. We're going to do the same thing with Benson. It was different with Yamo because he'd played 27 or 28 games. This is his first game. We'll get him in and get him up and going."
Gagner will slot in on the right side of the top line with Archibald and McDavid as Zack Kassian drops to the third unit with Jujhar Khaira and Riley Sheahan.
"I'm just going to go out and play my game," Gagner said. "I think Connor, the best player in the world, has a lot of speed and can create a tonne. I think for myself I can make plays with him and help him create, and Arch is a guy who plays with a lot of pace and a lot of grit and can open up a lot of room.
Tippett moves Kassian to the third line in a bid by the bench boss to shake things up and activate the forward with physical linemates.
"We're just tweaking a little bit there to see how things are going," Tippett said. "We want to get Kassian up and going here and working on a line where he can put some really hard work in. Just tweaking things trying to find the right combinations. With Neal out, we're looking for different matchups."
William Lagesson, who was called up in the same move with Benson on December 30, will play on the third pairing with Matt Benning.
"A little bit of 'see what he can do'," Tippett said of Lagesson's inclusion in the lineup. Jones has played pretty well.
"Jones and Benning were a lot like the rest of our group - not very good in Arizona - but Ken (Holland) was down in Bakersfield when Benning was down there and Lagesson and Benning were a good pair. We want to get Laggy up and playing here, so we'll see what he can do tonight with Benning."
Lines at this morning's skate appeared as follows:
This is the third of four games between the Oilers and Sharks this season, and the first of two at Rogers Place.
The Sharks doubled up the Oilers 6-3 in Edmonton's first visit to SAP Center at San Jose but the Oilers countered with a 5-2 win at the Shark Tank in their second lap at the arena.
The season series will conclude on March 27 in Edmonton.
Connor McDavid leads both teams with four points in the season series (1G, 3A). San Jose skaters Barclay Goodrow (2G, 1 A), Erik Karlsson (3A) and Logan Couture (3A) all have three points.
Oilers team scope:
After defeating the Stanley Cup champion St. Louis Blues by a score of 4-2 then throttling the Calgary Flames 8-3, the Oilers were humbled by a 3-0 loss to the Arizona Coyotes on Tuesday.
Despite the defeat, Edmonton is 7-2-1 in their last 10 games and 3-1-1 in their last five. The Orange & Blue are also 13-8-4 in '19-20 at Rogers Place, owning second in the Pacific Division with a 28-19-6 record and 62 points. Edmonton trails the division-leading Vancouver Canucks by three points.
Leon Draisaitl's 11-game point streak was snapped against the Coyotes but the forward paces the NHL in scoring with 29 goals, 54 assists and 83 points. Oilers Captain Connor McDavid is behind Draisaitl as the NHL's second-leading scorer with 79 points (29G, 50A).
Sharks team scope:
The Sharks did the Oilers a favour when they beat the Calgary Flames 3-1 on Tuesday but for San Jose, the '19-20 campaign has been anything but favourable.
A 15-16-2 record in December caused the club to dismiss former head coach Peter DeBoer and place assistant coach Bob Boughner into an interim head coaching role.
Under Boughner, the Sharks have gone 8-11-2 in 21 outings. San Jose currently is in the sixth position in the Pacific Division with 50 points.
Evander Kane tops all Sharks with 20 goals, while Karlsson is the team's assist and points leader with 32 and 37, respectively.
By the Numbers:
Edmonton is 22-4-2 when scoring first and 20-1-2 when leading after 40 minutes. ... McDavid and Draisaitl are first and second in power-play scoring with 36 and 34 power-play points, respectively. ... Draisaitl is averaging 1.57 points per game this season.
After taking 300 shots or more in the previous four seasons, defenceman Brent Burns is on pace for 247 this year. ... Burns has 11 goals on the season and owns a shooting percentage of 6.7 percent.
Joe Thornton is the 14th player in NHL history to achieve the 1,500 point mark after notching two assists against the Flames. ... Patrick Marleau is the fifth player in NHL history to skate in 1,700 NHL games.
OILERS - Kris Russell (concussion protocol) is on IR; Joakim Nygard (hand) is on IR; James Neal (foot) is day-to-day.
SHARKS - Tomas Hertl (torn ACL, MCL) is on IR; Logan Couture (fractured ankle) is on IR; Joel Kellman (undisclosed) is on IR; Dalton Prout (upper body) is on IR.