5’9 Zach Benson could be the Canucks’ biggest temptation at the draft

Photo credit:NHL.com
Isabella Urbani
10 months ago
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Welcome back to our series here at CanucksArmy where we examine players who could be available for the Vancouver Canucks with the 11th pick in the 2023 NHL Entry Draft. 
We’ve previously broken down Swedish right-shot defenceman Axel Sandin Pellikka; last season’s youngest NCAA player, BC’s own, Matthew Wood; Bo Horvat comparable, Slovakian centre Dalibor Dvorský; draft long shot Matvei Michkov; OHLer Calum Ritchie; the fastest skater of the draft, USNTDP centre Oliver Moore; Russian LD Dmitri Simashev; Canuck favourite David Reinbacher; number one OHL pick Quentin Musty; Brandon Wheat King captain Nate Danielson, and rising draft pick Tom Willander. Today, we’ll be looking at yet another player the Canucks took to dinner — left winger for the Winnipeg Ice (soon to be called the Wenatchee Ice), Zach Benson. 
Langley, BC’s Zach Benson is yet another one of the Canucks’ draft targets to have played in the CSSHL: the stomping grounds of this year’s first selection, Connor Bedard. Benson played for Yale Academy for three seasons, although his last season was cut short due to the pandemic. After recording just 19 points (6 G, 13 A) in 28 games in his first season in the league, Benson quadrupled his point total and then some: finishing year two with 86 points (30 G, 56 A) in 30 games. After that showing, Benson was selected 14th overall in the 2020 WHL Draft by the Winnipeg Ice and has been there ever since. In his first season with the Ice, Benson put up 20 points (10 G, 10 A) in 24 games. 63 points (25 G, 38 A) in 58 games, and 98 points (36 G, 62 A) — second most in the league — in 60 games this season. In two playoff appearances in the WHL, both spanning 15 games, Benson recorded 23 points (9 G, 14 A) and 17 points (7 G, 10 A), respectively. Benson also represented Canada in his first international tournament this season at the Hlinka Gretzky Cup, winning gold and putting up seven points ( 2 G, 5 A) in five games.
Benson’s leading the NHL rush for fellow hockey family members: brother Levi Benson (drafted last year to Swift Current), cousin Mirko (Clarkson commit and Brooks Bandit player), and cousin Diego (Portland Winterhawks forward). So, if the Canucks don’t luck out with Benson, who’s projected to go fifth, they have at least two names to look out for. 
What the scouts are saying
Craig Button, TSN: “He really has great vision, and with that vision, he knows how to get open to finish a play, but he also knows how to make plays. And he’s got this great confidence when the puck is on his stick: he’s elusive, he’s evasive, and he’s very very difficult to get a beat on if you’re trying to defend against him.”
“His game translates to the NHL as a top-line offensive player.” 
Corey Pronman, The Athletic: There’s three things with Zach Benson that make him so appealing to NHL teams: his skill, his hockey sense, and his competitiveness. He is one of the most creative and skilled players in the draft; he sees the ice at a very high level, and despite not being the biggest guy, he works very hard, wins many more battles than you expect him to, and he has a pretty polished two-way game.”
Smaht Socuting: “Benson is a hound for retrieving loose pucks. Think Zach Hyman. Once he has control of the puck after a strip, I’ve seen Benson time and time again feather 10ft passes through sticks and skates from below the goal line, setting up teammates for prime scoring opportunities.”
Cam Robinson, Elite Prospects: “There isn’t a play that Zach Benson won’t attack. His speed isn’t elite, but he gets to pucks so quickly because of his reads on the play. He attacks on the forecheck with that same pace and instincts while also using smart angles and routes. With the puck, he’s constantly darting to the inside, using both sets of edges to either open up and facilitate a face-first view, or cutback quickly and provide a new-found cushion on the defending players. He was forcing defenders onto their heels with his constant attacking pace but wouldn’t settle for an outside lane rush attempt but instead using that advantage to gain advantages for his mates to streak into holes and hit them with passes.”
David St-Louis, Elite Prospects: “It’s legitimate to have some concerns about Benson’s game. When a player’s main quality is his motor, even if all of his skills are NHL projectables, there is a chance that his play takes a step back when his competition becomes just as energetic, pacey, and intense as he is. Benson’s skating and stature only allow him to create small advantages at this level. Most of his plays are made under intense pressure, especially in these playoffs, as opponents can get on him and stick to him relatively well. Yet, he still manages to connect some ridiculous passes, backhands from a zone away, slip feeds through two defenders, and one-handed dangles around sticks. He’s not just smart, but an elite reader of the game.”
Rankings (per Elite Prospects) 
Even after being picked to go ninth and 14th by two scouts, Benson is still averaged to be the seventh selection in the draft. The only way the Canucks are going to have the opportunity to draft Benson with the 11th overall pick is if he takes a tumble down the draft board — which Elite Prospects says they wouldn’t be surprised if this happened. More players than ever in the NHL are below 6’0, but there’s still some worry and skepticism from scouts about selecting Benson in the first round because of his size. Elite Prospects had him at 5’10, but NHL Central Scouting measured him at 5’9. Give or take an inch, Benson’s still only 159 lbs. He would be lightwork for players to bench. And for being on the smaller end, his skating isn’t anything to marvel at. If he doesn’t have the size, and doesn’t have the speed, what’s going to happen when he gets leveled against the board? It’s the one knock against Benson’s game, but it’s a hard one to take on the chin. 


The Canucks took Benson out to dinner, so there’s certainly interest there. The Canucks just aren’t in the driver’s seat. Right now, he’s a luxury for the team, and someone who they’ll be keeping their eye on during draft day. I don’t think the Canucks are intimidated by Benson’s size in the slightest. The team hasn’t strayed away from taking shorter players at in the draft in any position: goaltender, defenceman, forward.
The Canucks selected Pettersson when his size, more specifically his weight, was all anyone could talk about. He figured it out. He got roughed up a bit in his first year, but most rookies do, especially when the puck is on their stick a lot. I think Benson’s playmaking is just too good not to bank on. Elite Prospects surveyed 700 players this season, and have an ongoing archive of over 3000 forwards, and only one person had a better-expected primary assists and slot pass success percentage than Benson. His name is Connor . . . McDavid. Not Bedard. But McDavid. Benson’s playmaking is in the 100th percentile. 
I’d go all in for Benson. Sure, he’s undersized. But he’s consistently been one of the best, if not the best, player for the Winnipeg Ice, on an already stacked team. His defense is great, he reads the game better than any player in this draft, he’s crafty, he has a knack for scoring, and his shot isn’t even his best strength. Size is what held him back from being taken higher in the WHL Draft, and it never became a concern. Yes, there is a sizable jump from the semi-pro WHL to the NHL, but out of all the leagues in the CHL, the WHL is known for its physicality. Benson’s adjusted, and he continues to get better year after year, regardless of the team he plays on. And he’s not improving by just a few points, he’s experiencing mind-boggling leaps in production. He was the only player in the WHL who was even giving Bedard a race for the scoring title. The Canucks know this. They’ve met him. They’ve watched him play. He’s a shot in the dark, but if the stars align, and he does drop, with a talent like that, he’d be an extremely tempting pick. 
What would your reaction be if the Canucks selected Zach Benson? Let us know in the comments below.

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