Talk about Mr. Clutch.
After blowing a 2-0 lead in the gold medal game of the Capital City Challenge, Canada Black found itself down 4-3 with 2.9 seconds left. Canada Black won the faceoff, but the puck didn't get that far. Zach Benson was able to get the loose disk and fired it off the left post with just 0.4 seconds remaining on the clock to score the game-tying goal in the most incredible fashion.
If anyone was going to score a goal that big to force overtime, it was going to obviously be Benson. Benson finished as the top scorer at the Capital City Challenge, a four-team all-Canadian event with three randomized U-17 squads and the women's Olympic team.
His points were likely a little inflated by a seven-point effort for Canada Black over White to wrap up the preliminary round, but he simply looked incredible throughout the entire tournament.
"Zach has been right on since day one," coach Stephane Julien said. "Every shift, he competes and brings our team to the next level."
The tournament was yet another example of Benson taking a piece of the spotlight. While top 2022 NHL draft Matthew Savoie leads the Winnipeg ICE with 41 points in 26 games, Benson has been impressive on his own with 11 goals and 23 points in 18 games. Only 2023 draft phenom Connor Bedard (24 points) has more than Benson, and Bedard has played in six more games.
Prior to this year, Benson had a whopping 30 goals and 86 points in 30 games with Yale Hockey Academy's U-15 team en route to the CSSHL's MVP title. In 24 WHL games a year ago, he had 20 points, good for sixth on the club, and had the playoffs commenced, Winnipeg would have had a good shot at the championship. Benson has only really played in winning environments, and maybe that's why he stood out so much in Canada Black's championship a week ago.
The small, skilled forward has tremendous speed and his hand-eye abilities stand out when he's trying to grab loose or bouncing pucks. Benson was drafted to the WHL at 5-foot-5 in 2020 but is now listed at 5-foot-10 – adjusting to a big increase can be challenging for many prospects, but Benson is starting to figure it out.
"He's really easy to play with," said Cal Ritchie, Benson's teammate with Canada Black and the golden-goal scorer. "He can score, he's a sniper and he can also make plays."
Benson is an offensive play driver – you're rarely going to see him standing around waiting for a pass. That dual-threat of being a near-equally good passer and shooter makes him a tough forward to stop on the rush, and Benson really makes it look easy.
Benson's Winnipeg ICE team is stacked, with four of the top five scorers in the league coming from the team. It definitely has helped his stat line, but Benson is no slouch. There are many cases in a game, even against older competition, where he's by far the most noticeable player, in a good way. Benson has the offensive drive to create damage.
Benson has a good chance of playing a long post-season with the ICE, and, hey, if things fall flat, maybe Canada will call upon him again for the U-18 World Championship in the spring. But right now, Benson is showing real promise to be an early pick at the 2023 draft. There's a lot of hockey to be played before then, but the stats don't lie: Benson's development has been a success so far.