What to expect from Matty Beniers, who should join Seattle Kraken soon
Having your season end in sudden death overtime is a hard pill to swallow, especially when it comes at the NCAA Frozen Four. All that work, a whole season of hockey and it ends in the blink of an eye. But perhaps signing your first NHL contract and making your pro debut can assuage some of that disappointment. That’s what Seattle Kraken top prospect Matty Beniers is wrestling with after his University of Michigan Wolverines were eliminated in overtime by Denver at the Frozen Four in Boston Thursday afternoon.
With Michigan’s season over, Beniers is free to sign and join the Seattle Kraken to finish the season, a move that has a ton of anticipation attached to it.
Beniers was the Kraken’s first-ever NHL Draft pick, going second overall during last July’s Draft. Rather than join the Kraken right away, as most second overall picks do, Beniers chose to return to a stacked Michigan team with hopes of making a run in the NCAA tournament.
He had a great season, scoring 20 goals and 43 points in 36 games, and was a Hobey Baker finalist. He played for the U.S. in the Olympics as one of the youngest players in the tournament and looks NHL ready.
Before people run out and buy number 10 Beniers jerseys it’s worth noting that nothing official has been announced or even talked about. It’s expected, however, that he’ll come out, sign with the Kraken, and finish the season here in Seattle.
That’s based on NHL Draft history prior to this year but Beniers already bucked one trend by returning to Michigan for a second year after going second overall in the Draft. COVID has thrown some cold water and doubt on how things have normally gone in the past.
Coming out and turning pro now should be attractive to Beniers as it allows him to “burn” a year of his three-year entry-level contract and get him to restricted free agency quicker.
“The agent of the player wants you to, in essence, burn the year,” Seattle Kraken general manager Ron Francis said last month. “So, in theory, if at the end of this season with Michigan if he wanted to come out, that’s the deal you’re most likely to do for getting him into our lineup.”
Over the weekend, ESPN’s Emily Kaplan reported there was a 90 percent chance that Beniers would sign.
There is plenty of precedent for draft picks in the NCAA to join the NHL team that drafted them late in the NHL season after the college campaign ends. It can happen quickly as well.
In March of 2017, Brock Boeser and his University of North Dakota team were eliminated from the NCAA Tournament and the next day, on March 25, he signed with the Vancouver Canucks who had drafted him in the first round of the 2015 NHL Draft. The contract was inked in the morning, and he played that night in Minnesota, scoring his first NHL goal, just 24 hours after his college career ended.
That’s not to suggest that Beniers will sign and play on Saturday when Seattle hosts the Calgary Flames but the Beniers watch is definitely on.
What to expect from Beniers
If he plays out the end of this season in the NHL, the results may not be stellar which is not a cause for alarm. It will be fun to watch him but keep in mind that he’ll be joining a brand-new team, league, and coaching staff. NCAA rules prohibited him from participating in Kraken training camp so he would be learning everything on the fly.
Next season the expectations are higher after a full training camp with the club but even then, they should be somewhat tempered.
Beniers certainly looks the part of a top-end player, but he’ll be 19 when the season starts, and it may take him some time to get going at full speed. Not all second overall picks are instant successes. The Los Angeles Kings took Quinton Byfield second overall in 2020 and he’s had a rocky start to his NHL career thanks to a strange Covid season, and injuries.
The year before, Finnish winger Kaapo Kakko went second to the New York Rangers in 2019 but has yet to establish himself as an NHL threat. There have been some picks that have been hits, however. Carolina drafted Andrei Svechnikov second overall in 2018 and he played in the NHL as an 18-year-old directly. He scored 20 goals during his rookie season and is now one of the top young stars in the game.
What Beniers has going for him
Beniers has some things going for him that give him a chance to have an impact sooner than later.
For starters, he has a pro game. He plays hard at both ends of the ice, takes care of his own end, and has the skill to produce offensively.
Unlike most second overall picks, Beniers went back to Michigan for a second season rather than being thrown to the wolves right away. He comes to the Seattle Kraken older, mature, and with a ton of extra development experience.
He’s also gained experience playing with and against older players.
NCAA hockey is an older game with players as old as 25 on the ice and that gives him an advantage against a guy coming into the NHL only having played against peers in the same age group. Beniers played for the US at the World Juniors where he was the youngest American player and then again at the World Championships where he played against NHL players. This winter he played for the Americans at the Olympics where again he competed with older and more experienced teammates and opponents.
In all those situations he performed well and fit in.
All of that means he’ll be better prepared for the NHL and he will not be intimidated.
There are no promises in hockey and draft position does not guarantee success by any means. That being said, the idea of Beniers in a Kraken jersey for the final three weeks of the season is tantalizing and a great way to conclude what has been a frustrating season.
The watch is on.