Giants won't rush elite prospect Tyler Benson into lineup
Team interested in seeing five-game limit for 15-year-olds raised to 10 games
Vancouver Giants introduce their top picks on Tuesday, May 14, 2013 from the annual WHL bantam draft. Left to right: top pick Tyler Benson (first overall, from Edmonton), Matt Barberis (20th overall, from Surrey) and Ryely McKinstry (23rd overall, from Calgary).
Photograph by: Wayne Leidenfrost, PNG
VANCOUVER — The Vancouver Giants don't appear in any particular hurry to rush elite prospect Tyler Benson into their Western Hockey League lineup next season by applying for “exceptional player” status.
Under current major junior rules, a 15-year-old is allowed just five regular-season games in the WHL until his midget team is eliminated from its league playoffs. However, exceptions have been made in the Ontario Hockey League for John Tavares, the New York Islanders star and Hart Trophy candidate, Connor McDavid and, most recently, defenceman Sean Day.
Giants majority owner Ron Toigo doesn't want to travel down that road but is keen on having the five-game limit bumped up to 10. Benson turned 15 on March 15 and is still in Grade 9. He was the first overall pick in the May 2 WHL bantam draft.
“It's not just ability but where they are in the evolution of their lives,” Toigo explained Tuesday at a gathering to introduce Benson, fellow draftees Matt Barberis and Ryely McKinstry and new minority partner Bruce Allen. “To us, there is a big difference between leaving home at 15 and at 16. I really don't think guys should be going to the NHL at 18 unless they are exceptional. I think it has hurt more people than it's helped. We kind of have the same philosophy here.
“But what we're going to try and do is move the limit to 10 games instead of five. We're not sure what the process is, but we're going to start down that path.”
According to Toigo, he has a lot of support within the WHL to petition Hockey Canada for a new 10-game call-up rule.
“We think it should be changed for everybody, not just special-status players,” Toigo continued. “I talked to a number of GMs and governors about it at the draft and it got pretty good support. I don't know anybody who was against it. With the demands of the world juniors and the world under-17 challenge and these tournaments that go on at Christmas time, a lot of teams are running two or three players under the limit. So we think we should be able to bring guys up for more than just five games. But, at the end of the day, it's Hockey Canada's call.”
Benson himself is preparing to play a season of midget hockey in Edmonton, his hometown. He is blond with braces on his teeth and the youngest of two boys. His older brother Cole has spent the past two seasons with the Edmonton Oil Kings, who won the WHL title in 2012 and lost in this year's final to the Portland Winterhawks. Tyler's favourite NHL player is Detroit Red Wing centre Pavel Datsyuk.
“I think I'm pretty focused on just playing midget and developing there and living at home with my parents,” said the 5-11, 180-pound Benson, a left-winger who collected an astonishing 146 points in 33 regular-season games for the South Side Athletic Club bantams.
Benson admits he is a little overwhelmed by the attention he's received this past season, especially when the NHL was locked out until mid-January. He was featured in segments on the sports networks.
“Yes, it is a little overwhelming seeing myself on TV on a show I've watched every day,” he said. “It's pretty cool.”
Tyler, by the way, is already the tallest in his family. Cole is 5-7 and dad and mom are 5-10 and 5-3, respectively. Tyler hopes his growing days aren't over.
“I guess my dad has some big people in his family so I always hope I can maybe grow to 6-2 or 6-3,” he said. “I'm just hoping I can grow that extra few inches.”
Giants coach Don Hay is quite familiar with 15-year-olds playing above their age group. He just coached Canada’s under-18 national team to a gold medal in Sochi, Russia, and McDavid led the tournament in scoring despite being two years younger than most players. McDavid also had 66 points in 63 games for the OHL's Erie Otters.
Tavares had 45 goals and 77 points as a 15-year-old for the Oshawa Generals in 2005-06.
“I know Connor McDavid is a very special player and everything I've heard about Tyler is that he is a special player, too,” said Hay. “I haven't seen him play other than on video and on TV. But in talking to him, he's a very humble young man, which is a really good sign. As a coach, I'd love to see him play if he's ready. You always want the best players possible. I'm open to whatever the rules are (for 15-year-olds), but it's not my decision to make.”
Otherwise, the addition of Allen as a Giants’ minority partner doesn't mean the bombastic talent manager of Michael Buble, Bryan Adams, Anne Murray and others will be a silent partner.
“Are you kidding?” laughed Toigo. “Bruce won't be silent. That's one thing he won't be. He doesn't hold his opinion back. You don't have to agree with it all the time, but you're going to hear about it.”
Allen joins an ownership group that already includes Michael and Lewis Buble, Pat Quinn, Gordie Howe and Sultan Thiara. Michael Buble, through dad Lewis, jokingly set Allen straight on what a minority partner does.
“Now Bruce can make coffee and wash Ronnie's car,” quipped Michael.
G-NOTES: Two Giants, defenceman Mason Geertsen and right-winger Jackson Houck, have been invited to the NHL scouting combine that begins May 27 in Toronto. Geertsen and Houck are both touted as third-round picks by The Hockey News. Geertsen is ranked 74th and Houck 79th.
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