As the No. 1 overall pick of the 2013 WHL bantam draft, it goes without saying that Tyler Benson will have his fair share of pressure on his shoulders in his rookie season of major junior hockey. The Vancouver Giants are hoping that he will assert himself as a star straight out of the gate in order to help them win the bid to host the 2016 MasterCard Memorial Cup.
Benson, though, isn’t fazed by the high expectations laid upon him. In fact, the 5-foot-11, 180-pound winger claims he doesn’t “feel the pressure.”
“I don’t really feel the pressure because I don’t really look into it that much,” says Benson, who turned 16 in March. “That Memorial Cup isn’t for a long time, so I’m not thinking about it. I’m just going to play my game.”
Benson’s rookie season will by no means be his first pressure-filled season. The Edmonton native was the centre of the bantam draft attention in 2012-13 while playing with the SSAC Bantam ‘AAA’ Lions. It entailed no shortage of interviews and at times premature comparisons to the likes of Erie Otters superstar Connor McDavid and Anaheim Ducks centre Ryan Getzlaf.
“I never felt overwhelmed or anything when I started to get a lot of attention,” says Benson, who netted 57 goals and 146 points in 33 games in his 2012-13 bantam season. “It was a change and I did a lot of interviews, but I never let it get to me. I just tried to stay focused on playing my game and not worrying about stuff that’s out of my control.”
There was talk Benson could have made the early jump into the Dub last year, but he decided not to apply for the exemption status for a number of reasons. One of them was that he wanted to work on speed and skating before making the plunge, so he decided to play for the Pursuit of Excellence U18 Prep program in Kelowna, B.C.
“I worked on my skating and feel I improved that,” says Benson, who scored 37 goals and 95 points in 49 games last season. “The Pursuit of Excellence (program) really helped me with that. I feel I made the improvements I needed to keep up in the WHL and am happy with that.”
Benson did get a taste of major junior action last year, though. He played seven games with the Giants before suffering from a season-ending MCL injury in March.
“It was disappointing when it happened, but the recovery went well and it healed properly,” he says. “I took a couple of months off and once I hit the ice after that I felt fine, so I’ve felt good for a while.”
Fortunately for Benson, he has gotten advice around the kitchen table on what to expect in his first season in the WHL. His 20-year-old brother, Cole Benson, spent the past three years playing for the Edmonton Oil Kings.
“I’ve talked to him and he’s told me about what to expect,” says Benson. “He told me about how it’s a lifestyle change. There’s more travel and other stuff included when playing in this league. He’s been helpful for figuring stuff out.”
1. Do you have a favourite NHL player?
“I like (Detroit Red Wings centre) Pavel Datsyuk. He’s a very skilled player that plays a 200-foot game and I like that about him.”
2. Do you have a favourite NHL team?
“I like the (Edmonton) Oilers because I grew up watching them.”
3. Is there a player in the WHL that you’re looking forward to playing against this year?
“There are a lot of players I’m looking forward to playing against. I have a bunch of friends that I’m looking forward to going up against. (Medicine Hat Tigers 1998-born defender) David Quenneville is one for sure. We have been friends for a while so that will be fun.”
4. If you weren’t entrenched in hockey, what other sport would you be heavily involved in?
“I’ve never really played other sports besides hockey. Hockey has always been my sport, but if I wasn’t playing it, I would probably play golf or football.”
5. What band or genre of music do you like to listen to before a game?
“I’m really not particular at all. I’ll listen to whatever the boys want to listen to.”
Kelly Friesen is a Buzzing the Net columnist for Yahoo! Sports. Follow him on Twitter @KellyFriesen