Welcome to another prospect profile here on A Winning Habit, where we learn more about some players the Canadiens could potentially select with the fifth overall pick in the 2023 NHL Entry Draft. This is the fourth edition, where we will be looking at prospect Zach Benson. You can find the first three prospect profiles here:
Benson is coming off a tremendous season, playing for the Winnipeg Ice of the Western Hockey League. With the Ice, Benson put up 98 points in 60 games, lighting the lamp up 36 times and leading the team in scoring. That’s very impressive, considering the Ice were one of the best teams in the WHL, loaded with future NHL talent, including Buffalo Sabres’ 2022 top-ten pick Matthew Savoie and Arizona’s 2022 First rounder Connor Geekie. There are areas of Benson’s game that might be cause for concern, but he put together a year that cemented him as a top prospect in this year’s draft.
Team: Winnipeg Ice (WHL)
Height/Weight: 5’10″/159 lbs
DOB: May 12, 2005
Hometown: Langley, BC, Canada
Analysis & NHL Projection
As is almost always the case with top talent in the draft, Benson is an incredibly smart player, perhaps the smartest in this year’s class. That, combined with his exceptional passing ability, makes for an offensive machine in junior, which should translate to the NHL. He may be undersized, at just 5’10”, but he doesn’t play to his size, as he’s a good puck protector using both his skill and smarts to create scoring chances out of nowhere.
He’s also tremendous in his own end of the ice, even being dubbed the best defensive forward in the draft by some. All that suggests he’ll be an outstanding NHL player. Right now, I’d say he projects to be a first-line winger with all-star upside. He’d do wonders playing alongside scorers, as Benson has a decent shot, but it’s certainly not the hallmark of his game. Still, he has point-per-game player written all over him, and if he can clean some of his weaker attributes up, the sky’s the limit.
Benson, despite his small frame, is not a particularly great skater. He doesn’t have breakaway speed, and while he is capable of protecting the puck, his size, or lack thereof, might make that a skill that’s difficult to retain when he makes the jump. But players that were average skaters have been able to work on their skating and improve it quite a bit. Brayden Point is perhaps the best example of this, as he was an average skater when the Lightning drafted him. After working on it with skating coach Barb Underhill, it’s now a strength of his game and a problem for his opponents. If Benson can find similar success in this department, oh boy, watch out.
Zach Benson Draft Projection
Zach Benson might be one of the most talented players in this year’s draft; the list of players better than him is undoubtedly short. But his lack of size and elite skating ability might cause him to fall. Brayden Point, a good comparable, fell to Tampa in the third round (how did we let that happen?). Benson won’t fall that far, but he could fall out of the top ten, even though he shouldn’t. As Canadiens fans can tell you, that would be a gift for any team lucky enough to have that talent available to them at that point in the draft.
Benson’s Fit With The Canadiens
Benson would actually be a great fit from a talent perspective for the Canadiens, as he has elite offensive ability. Not to mention, he’s defensively responsible, something the Canadiens organization has valued for a long time. I’ve talked extensively about how the Canadiens need more offensive talent, true game-breakers, and here is a player that can be that without sacrificing defense to boot.
That being said, I doubt the Canadiens overlook his deficiencies, especially with a few other small players already in their top six. Then again, other talented players like Ryan Leonard and Matvei Michkov are both under six feet, so who knows for sure if the Canadiens decide not to pull the trigger.
Benson wouldn’t be my first choice at five, but he might be my second, I love his game, and I think he’d fit nicely on any team. He’s a gifted player, one that will help his team score a ton of goals. While small, he has a ton of skills that translate well to the NHL, including his elite hockey sense and exceptional passing ability. If the Canadiens pass on him, they better hope who they took panned out. Otherwise, they’ll regret skipping over Benson.
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