When asked by the NHL Central Scouting Survey what Zach Benson aspired to be, he said “nuclear physicist.” While he might have been joking with that answer, he does project to be one of the smartest players in this upcoming draft.
Benson has gone under the radar behind prospects like Connor Bedard, Adam Fantilli, and Matvei Michkov but he shouldn’t be underestimated going into the draft on June 28.
2023 NHL Draft Update: Zach Benson was selected 13th overall by the Buffalo Sabres.
Who is Zach Benson?
Benson’s on-ice production
|2018–19||D-4||CSSHL U15||Yale Hockey Academy U15 Prep||28||6||13||19|
|2019–20||D-3||CSSHL U15||Yale Hockey Academy U15 Prep||30||30||56||86|
|CSSHL U16||Yale Hockey Academy Elite 15s||5||1||1||2|
|Hlinka Gretzky Cup||Canada U18||5||2||5||7|
Benson has had a pretty strong career in the juniors up to this point. In his D-3 season he took a huge jump forward going from 19 points to a whopping 86 in only two additional games played. At only 16 years old in his second season with the Winnipeg Ice, he led the team in playoff points as they made their way to the third round.
This year he was the top player on the Ice who now find themselves back in the third round after they finished off the Moose Jaw Warriors.
Benson finished the regular season with the third highest total points in the league (98). With only Connor Bedard and 20-year-old Chase Wheatcroft finishing ahead of him.
Benson has found success at every level he has played so far, and has also shown the ability to rapidly improve as seen in the big production bumps he’s had in each season played so far.
He also played an integral role in the Canada U18 Mens team winning the most recent Hlinka Gretzky Cup.
He might not be a nuclear physicist but it sure seems he’s got the brain to be one. Bensons biggest strength is his IQ. His ability to read the ice and the play is truly stellar. He’s a highly skilled playmaker and is keenly aware of how to create high-danger scoring chances.
Alongside his elite hockey IQ he has very strong puck and stick handling skills which he uses to create for himself. He also uses those skills to make sure that he keeps full control of the puck until an opportune moment opens up for one of his teammates to finish. He’s able to pass from anywhere on the ice and has mastered a number of different types of passes. If you’ve got Benson on your team, he’ll find you at the right moment. As a leader on the ice, he also utilizes his strong skating and low centre of gravity to lead the transition.
While he’s skilled when he’s got the puck, he’s always one of the best players in this draft when he doesn’t have the puck too. His offensive awareness as well as his speed and smaller size give him a great edge at retrieving loose pucks. He’s as scrappy as they come and will always work to find a way to keep the puck in his team’s possession.
Benson’s shooting is also not something to ignore. He’s able to find open ice wherever it might be and knows how to capitalize on the opportunities he makes for himself. He’s a very creative offensive player and makes everyone on the team look good in the offensive zone.
With such a glowing review of his offence you’re likely expecting him to have clear holes in his defensive skills. But I’m here to tell you he really doesn’t have any.
Like with his offence, Benson’s greatest strength is his mind. He’s able to read the play like few players of his age, and always finds himself in position to pester the opposing offence. His ability to battle for loose pucks and always be actively playing a role on the ice make him an unreal asset to any team.
Even despite his smaller size at only 5’10” he’s able to hold his own physically with larger and older players he’s faced so far.
Benson’s areas of improvement
Benson’s greatest weakness is his size. His IQ, hardworking habits, and skills mostly make up for it but there is still some concern the bigger and more experienced players in the NHL might be able to give him some trouble—the likes of which he hasn’t seen to this point in his career.
Benson has also split duties as both a centre and left wing so far throughout his career, and there is some concern held by scouts that his ability to win the puck in faceoffs might not be quite where it needs to be. Luckily for him if this ends up being a the biggest issue with his game he’ll still find himself a steady role on the left wing.
Brayden Point comes to mind as a player Benson has emulated with similar top-end offence and talent.
Fit with the Flames
Benson is one of the first players we’ve covered so far that could realistically fall to the Flames should they win the sixth overall pick in the Draft Lottery. Most projections have him around the fifth pick but seeing him fall behind a player like Will Smith due to concerns over his size don’t seem too farfetched.
His fit with the Flames though really comes down to if Darryl Sutter remains behind the bench next season. Benson is small, and Sutter seems to have a real issue with undersized players as we saw with Matthew Phillips last season. The biggest hurdle therefore would just be getting a proper chance under Sutter to prove his worth in the NHL. Benson’s defence though might be the one thing that helps Sutter to give him a bit of a look.
If Sutter isn’t around though in the next two seasons I believe that Benson could fit in quite well with the Flames. The potential of him taking on the role Johnny Gaudreau once had on a line with Elias Lindholm would definitely be worth a look as those two found great success with one another.
Having such a strong young playmaker get the chance to learn from Jonathan Huberdeau would also be exciting, and given the Flames focus on two-way play, he’d do quite well.
Zach Benson is one of the smartest young players coming into the NHL and he will bring creative and exciting hockey to whichever team ends up drafting him. At his best he could enter the Selke conversation on an annual basis and at his worst he’ll still likely be a smart and gritty cornerstone of any top-six unit in the NHL.
Projection: Elite two-way forward
All TWC 2023 NHL Draft Profiles
Check out more of our individual player profiles of selected 2023 NHL Draft prospects:
Connor Bedard | Matvei Michkov | Adam Fantilli | Leo Carlsson | Zach Benson | Andrew Cristall | Oliver Moore | Will Smith | Ryan Leonard | Eduard Sale | Colby Barlow | Axel Sandin Pellikka | Dalibor Dvorsky | Brayden Yager | David Reinbacher | Nate Danielson | Riley Heidt | Matthew Wood | Quentin Musty | Mikhail Gulyayev | Calum Ritchie | Gabe Perrault | Jayden Perron | Ethan Gauthier | Dmitri Simashev | Samuel Honzek | Lukas Dragicevic | William Whitelaw | Otto Stenberg | Gavin Brindley | Daniil But