How Kraken veterans can help rookies Beniers and Wright this season
Oct 14, 2022, 12:02 PM | Updated: Feb 5, 2023, 3:40 pm
(Harry How/Getty Images)
Two games into the new season and it’s clear the Kraken plan on treating 18-year-old rookie Shane Wright with kid gloves.
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Wright, the fourth overall pick during July’s NHL Draft, played just over six minutes on opening night against Anaheim and was then a healthy scratch Thursday in Los Angeles. The scratch had a lot to do with making sure Morgan Geekie got into a game early, but it also serves as a learning experience for the young Wright, who is attempting to make the big jump from junior hockey to the NHL.
“I’m gonna have a lot of growing moments, for sure,” Wright said the day before his first NHL game. “Gonna make some mistakes, but also learn lots about myself. I’m talking to everyone. I think talking to all the guys, I mean, it’s such a special group of guys. They’re so welcoming, so inviting, you can talk to them about anything. So, it’s been a lot of fun, definitely nice to be able to pick their brains.”
The coaches will help Wright, and fellow young rookie Matty Beniers, 19, but the Kraken have the luxury of several players who have been where they are. Young players, high draft picks, learning the NHL game on the fly.
Beniers is a year older with an added year of development under his belt. He’s off to a good start. But, like Wright, Beniers is skating into unknown territory.
“It will be challenging at times, obviously it’s a learning process for all of them,” Kraken defenseman Adam Larsson said. “They’re gonna have a couple of tough games. You just have to let them play their game, that’s what brought them here.
“I think we have seen Matty elevate his game from last year. He came in and he was quite a difference, but this year it seems to have taken another step and obviously Shane, he’s still so young and he will grow into it, too. He is such a smart player and smart players tend to get into it quicker.”
Larsson knows what he’s talking about.
Playing in Sweden, Larsson was selected by the New Jersey Devils with the fourth overall pick – which is where the Kraken landed Wright last July – in 2011 and played in the NHL the next year at 18 years old. Not only was he in Wright’s situation, but he was also learning a new language and culture.
Larsson says there were veteran players on the Devils who helped him and he’s happy to pay that forward with the Kraken.
“It’s more a mental thing,” Larsson said. “I think I can help them with stuff like that. The first couple of years, the first year especially, it’s a lot faster. The schedule sneaks up on you a lot quicker and being out west, it’s a lot more travel. That kind of wears you down a little bit too. So, you just have to find a way every single day to get up, and some nights you maybe get four hours of sleep and you still have to find a way to be on your game.”
The extended schedule will be a new challenge for Beniers, who played a career-high 37 games his last season in college with Michigan. Wright may have a better feel for a longer 82-game season by playing major junior hockey in the Ontario Hockey League where he played 60-plus games in a season.
Both Beniers and Wright are fortunate in a way that Seattle is not yet a rabid hockey town and the media coverage is not as intense as it can be in other markets.
Kraken forward Jared McCann was a first-round pick of the Vancouver Canucks during the 2014 NHL Draft (24th overall). He played one more year of junior hockey and made the Canucks roster at 19, playing the full season.
Vancouver is a hockey-mad city and media market. The scrutiny is endless up North.
“Obviously playing in Canada, you’re under a microscope a lot of the time,” McCann said. “The team wasn’t doing great, we kind of had a tough year so I think there was some added pressure. I think I started out on the on the fifth line and just kind of tried to move forward but these guys have so much skill now, coming into the NHL, and they have a lot of confidence. They’re gonna get a good opportunity.”
Jordan Eberle knows about pressure as a young player.
A first-round pick of the Edmonton Oilers in 2008, Eberle was already a Canadian hero for his exploits in the World Junior Championships. He spent two seasons in junior after being drafted and then headed to a tough market to play with sky-high expectations.
It didn’t help that Eberle scored a short-handed goal in his first NHL game.
Neither Beniers nor Wright will have the same level of pressure and Eberle says that they have something else in their toolbox that he never had.
“You see these young guys now, they’re literally making that jump look easy,” Eberle said. “I think the game has gotten so skilled and so fast and maybe less rough, hard-hitting. It’s become more skilled and these kids are covered. Their skills are above and beyond where we were when we were younger.”
We’ve already seen the skill that Beniers has and he’s started the season with a goal and two assists in the first two games. Wright has skill as well and it’s expected he’ll start to show that more and earn more consistent playing time.
Both players will still have moments of struggle and maybe some doubt this year. But like their veteran teammates, they have guys to help them out and look to for advice.
That veteran mentorship is common throughout the Kraken dressing room. Every player wants to and is willing to help Beniers and Wright find their way.
“I think that’s the league in general,” Larsson said. “We’ve gotten a lot younger and it almost feels weird that I’m an older guy now. We have a group that wants to grow together and I think we have something good going on. There’s a lot of positive vibes in here.”
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