Canucks And NHL In Nashville
Top-15 NHL Draft prospect Zach Benson told us his mom was a Canucks fan, but he followed in his dad’s footsteps by favouring the Oilers. This information popped up before an entertaining conversation about his upbringing in Chilliwack.
Benson would leave school three weeks early every summer — “that was the best part” — to join his dad and grandpa on the carnival circuit across western Canada with West Coast Amusements, the family business.
“My grandpa is still running the business today, so we would travel, get there one day, set up the next, be at that location for about a week and then move on to the next location,” Benson explained. The family would be on the road for two-and-a-half to three straight months.
The carnivals feature what you’d expect; games, rides, and food.
“Kind of the whole deal.”
He made the trips starting from age five up until Covid halted things for awhile when he “about 13 or 14”.
“I was always following my grandpa around, he had a little scooter that kind of got him around the location and I’d always hop on with him and kind of act like I was the boss,” Benson explained. “I’d work (making) the mini donuts, but I don’t think my grandpa had the trust in me to run a ride.”
A little guy in charge. That hasn’t changed for Benson as he enters the big time hockey world at the NHL Draft on Wednesday. He’s an undersized left winger at 5-foot-9 and 165-pounds. He left Chilliwack youth hockey and played academy hockey and teenage elites in and around Vancouver.
“I kind of like to follow my game after Brayden Point, he’s super skilled, plays a 200-foot game and extremely smart,” Benson said.
Point, a two-time Stanley Cup winner with the Tampa Bay Lightning, is an excellent choice as a role model, although the 27-year-old center is two inches taller than Benson and fifteen pounds heavier. Of course, Benson’s not done growing. For now he’s more Vancouver Canucks forward Conor Garland’s size.
“I’m a 200-foot player, smart, can play in any situation, I kind of raise my game when it gets to the playoffs,” Benson self-assessed. “(Building) My strength is kind of my main area of focus this summer, and getting more explosive, I think that’s two keys for me to kind of make that jump to the next level.”
Benson played two-and-a-half seasons in the Western Hockey League with the Winnipeg Ice (have since moved to become the Wenatchee, Washington Wild) where he amassed 181 points in 142 games played. 98 of those points came this past season playing alongside center Matthew Savoie, the 9th-overall pick last summer of the Buffalo Sabres. The club also featured forward Conor Geekie, the 11th-overall pick of the Arizona Coyotes last summer, and hefty left-shot defenceman Carson Lambos, the 26th-overall pick of the Minnesota Wild in 2021.
So Benson’s had no shortage of advice leading up to the 2023 Draft.
Benson spoke to the Canucks and to pretty much every other NHL club on his way to this draft, either in-person or on a video call. He’s ranked 6th on the NHL Central Scouting Bureau’s North American skater list. Factor in the European skaters and Benson could actually be available for the Canucks at pick number-11.
That said, small style and stature aren’t exactly what the Canucks should be looking for at this point. If one of the Euro-defenceman are available with that selection, one would think they’d go that direction instead. Or they might look at Matthew Wood, a big right winger who was born in Alberta but spent some time growing up in Nanaimo. (More on our conversation with Wood shortly.)
Either way, Zach Benson’s another BC’er to watch in pursuit of NHL dreams. We’ll see where he goes starting a 4 pm pacific with Round-1 on Wednesday.