Matty Beniers off to great start, but Seattle Kraken still need skill on offense
The Matty Beniers hype train has left the station and reached top speed. Why wouldn’t it? The first-ever Seattle Kraken draft pick, who went second overall at the 2021 NHL Draft, has come to town and already scored twice with an assist in his first three NHL games. It’s been a fun addition late into a season that isn’t going to end in a playoff run.
He’s played three games with Seattle winning two, though it probably should have won all three. But that doesn’t mean the offensive issues for the Seattle Kraken are solved. Having one elite offensive player is great, but general manager Ron Francis still needs to add this summer.
“It’s been a good start but there is always better,” Beniers said after his first home game. “There’s a lot more work to do if you want to build a team that’s really good, especially next year. I know we’re out of playoffs but it’s good to get some momentum going into next year because your goal is to do really well and win games and if you can help your team do that, you’re doing well. It’s just been two games and there’s a lot of work to do.”
THE KID IS ALRIGHT!!!!
— Seattle Kraken (@SeattleKraken) April 17, 2022
Beniers has shown his offensive skill and is on his way to perhaps becoming a top center in the NHL, but it’s not realistic to hand the keys, and the pressure, over to a 19 year old.
In the three games that Beniers has played, the Seattle Kraken have scored three goals in each (not counting the goal they are awarded for the shootout win against New Jersey or the empty-net goal against Ottawa), and for a team that is averaging 2.22 goals scored per 60 minutes, it’s notable.
His impact on the team has been obvious. He very well might be the most skilled player on the roster already and has the most speed. Yanni Gourde was asked Monday if Beniers was faster than he was, and without hesitation answered “Absolutely.”
With Beniers at the top of the lineup, the rest of the forwards have slid into more appropriate roles and the overall results have been good.
However, it’s not enough in the long run.
Seattle will get a good look on Wednesday at a team that has three or four Beniers-type players when the Colorado Avalanche come to town. The Avalanche are one of the top Stanley Cup contenders in the NHL and their lineup has top-end offensive players like Nathan Mackinnon, Gabriel Landeskog, Mikko Rantenen, and Nazem Kadri, who is having a career year.
Colorado is at the top of the pile and it’s easy to say “Be like the Avalanche,” but the goal should be to be like the Avalanche. They don’t rely on one player and have four elite forwards – not to mention an offensive defenseman star in Cale Makar – causing matchup issues for their opponents.
Seattle needs to add offense and skill beyond Beniers if it wants to compete with the league’s top teams like Colorado.
How do the Kraken add?
The good news for the Kraken and Francis is that he has the tools and assets to add offensive firepower to his roster. For starters, he has Beniers in the fold and that’s a great way to get going.
Beyond that, he’ll get to select another top prospect at this year’s draft. We will have to wait for the NHL Draft Lottery to find out exactly which pick the Kraken get but Seattle should end up with a top-five selection. That pick may take two years to impact the team but ultimately, if they choose correctly, the Kraken will end up with potentially two top-end players.
Francis also loaded up on draft picks for the next couple of years with the moves he made at the NHL trade deadline. For the 2022 NHL Draft, he has 12 picks to work with, four of which are in the second round. He’s on record saying he hopes to not use all those picks, meaning he wants to use some of those picks to swing trades.
However it works out, Francis will be able to acquire players in several ways and the draft gives him one way to do so.
The double-edged sword of free agency
Perhaps the biggest asset Francis has is a mountain of cash in cap space heading into the offseason.
He says he plans on being aggressive in July’s free agency period and that can certainly be a way for quick fixes offensively. The Kraken have the means to go after the big-name free agents, and not just one of them.
Does he go after players like Calgary’s Johnny Gaudreau? Nashville’s Filip Forsberg? Kadri? Francis could, but he has to be careful.
Big-name free agents are often being paid for their past performances and not the future. It’s a tough needle to thread because the last thing Francis wants to do is to hand out huge contracts that end up weighing down the team’s cap space without the matching production.
A great example is the Chicago Blackhawks giving defenseman Seth Jones an eight-year contract for $9.5 million per season this past summer that will end when he is in his mid-30s in the 2030-31 season. Will he still be producing then? If not, that’s a lot of money to be paying for a declining player.
That’s not to say you don’t make the move and jump in on a guy. There’s no point in hoarding cap space if you never spend it; there’s no interest accumulating.
If the Kraken like a player such as Forsberg and decide to lock him down, you bet that he’ll perform for the first three or four years of the term and the team wins. That may be worth the future issues. NHL general managers are not afraid of kicking the can down the road for a chance to win quicker.
This is what Francis will have to wrestle with this summer.
The Beniers Mania right now is fun, but Seattle needs to surround him with equal skill. Seattle has built a potentially great supporting cast that plays hard every night and has been resilient from Day 1. Now is the time to add skill to that core.