When the top Seattle Kraken prospects could make NHL debuts

Feb 15, 2022, 12:22 PM

Seattle Kraken Matty Beniers...

Michigan center Matty Beniers skates during a practice. Beniers is at the Olympics as a member of the U.S. team. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya, File)

(AP Photo/Paul Sancya, File)

The Seattle Kraken were not much of a match for the high-flying Toronto Maple Leafs Monday night at the Climate Pledge Arena, losing 6-2.

Mitch Marner, Toronto Maple Leafs top Seattle Kraken 6-2

Toronto is one of the top teams in the NHL with high-end skill players like Auston Matthews, Mitchell Marner, and Morgan Rielly. The core of the Maple Leafs is superior to most teams on a nightly basis and they built that core through the NHL Draft.

Four of the Maple Leafs top five scorers are Toronto draft picks helping prove the NHL Draft remains the best way to build a team.

As an expansion team, none of the Kraken players on the roster were originally drafted by the Kraken. The club has the salary cap to add much-needed top offensive talent through free agency or via trade this summer but ultimately, they’ll win based on how general manager Ron Francis performs through the draft.

He has a decent draft record as general manager with Carolina, helping select several key players who are now helping the Hurricanes be a Stanley Cup contender. Most notably is Sebastian Aho who Francis found in the second round and is one of the top young players in the NHL.

Francis has made seven picks so far with the Kraken and while they’re not in the NHL yet, there is promise in the Seattle prospect pool and their arrival could be near.

Here is a look at three of the top Kraken prospects that you should be paying attention to.

Matty Beniers, Center, University of Michigan

Seattle moved up one spot in last year’s NHL Draft Lottery and won the second overall pick. After Buffalo took defenseman Owen Power the choice for the Seattle Kraken was somewhat obvious. They selected Power’s Michigan teammate Beniers who eventually opted to return to college for a shot to win a national championship with a loaded Wolverines team.

Beniers’ play this year has been nothing short of spectacular.

He’s been nominated for the Hobey Baker Award – college hockey’s Heisman – and at 19 years old is currently the youngest player competing with Team USA at the Beijing Olympics.

With Michigan, who has been ranked in the top five of the NCAA all season, he’s played 28 games and scored 16 goals, 20 assists, and 36 points. His skill level transcends his counting numbers, however. That skill comes in a player who is a defensive force in his own end and makes those around him better.

He sees the ice, is the definition of a 200-foot player and is a regular on special teams. At times flashy, he’s more than just a scorer and projects to be a first- or second-line center at the NHL level.

When will he be in Seattle?

The NHL Draft is different than what you may be used to in the NFL or NBA. Most of the prospects selected in the Draft will return to their amateur team for further development. Some make it to the NHL faster than others, however.

Beniers looks ready for the NHL now and he has experience playing against older, adult players. Last year he performed well for the US at the IIHF World Championships, playing with and against teams made up of NHL players – he was a teammate of current Kraken Colin Blackwell for the US.

The most likely scenario for Beniers is that he will sign with Seattle at the conclusion of Michigan’s season, which he hopes will be a national championship win in March. If that happens, Beniers could play with the Kraken for the final handful of games this year, giving us an early look at him.

Expect him to be a Kraken regular next fall.

Ryker Evans, defense, Regina Pats

When the Kraken selected Evans early in the second round, pick number 35, the self-proclaimed online Draft experts were quick to criticize the choice. It was a reach they all said.

However, since then, Evans has done everything to prove those ‘experts’ wrong. Evans, 20, was an older Draft pick and was impressive at Kraken training camp. Early on he wasn’t intimidated playing against NHLers and stood out during drills and scrimmages.

Evans played in one preseason game for the Kraken and impressed again. He’s an offensive-minded defenseman, which is one of the most important positions to fill for Stanley Cup contending teams. He can score and sees the ice well enough to find open teammates.

Back in the Western Hockey League with Regina for one last season, he’s been outstanding. Evans is the second leading scoring defenseman in the WHL with 11 goals, 35 assists, and 46 points through the first 42 games.

When will he be in Seattle?

Evans will get a shot to crack the roster during training camp this coming September. Seattle’s defense has some players now which could block him from making the team by opening day but if he performs well, don’t be surprised to see Evans make the club.

He most likely will start in the American Hockey League with Seattle’s new affiliate, the Coachella Valley Firebirds, but a call-up to the NHL would not be surprising. Evans projects to be an NHL regular at some point over the next two years.

Ryan Winterton, F, Hamilton Bulldogs

Perhaps the most intriguing of the Kraken prospects, Winterton could end up a steal. He only played seven games during his draft year in 2020 because the Ontario Hockey League shut down for the season due to COVID. It cost Winterton, 18, valuable viewings by NHL scouts.

He did play for Canada at the U18 World Championships in a limited role but that got him in front of scouts who had just his rookie season in the OHL to judge him by.

The Kraken liked him and took him in the third round with pick 67. Winterton then got hurt so didn’t get to participate in Seattle’s training camp and missed the first half of the OHL season this year. He scored a goal with four assists in his first game back from injury and has stayed hot since.

In his first 11 games with Hamilton this year, he’s scored seven goals and has 11 assists. A tall forward, Winterton has a high-end shot and if his production continues, could end up being a diamond in the rough.

When will he be in Seattle?

Winterton is further away than the top two prospects simply because he hasn’t played much hockey over the past two years. He’s been good this year since returning to the lineup and he’s young so there is no rush.

He’ll be at training camp with Seattle but will be back with Hamilton for the season. If he continues to perform and progress, Winterton could end up an NHL player in the next three to four years.

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