Face of the Kraken? NHL lifers see phenom Matty Beniers is special
Matty Beniers, the first-ever Seattle Kraken draft pick, certainly was going to struggle a bit in his first full season as a pro.
He raised eyebrows last year in a 10-game stint at the end of the season, picking up points in nine of those games. But that was just 10 games, and things would be different this year. He’d have to play a full 82-game season against opponents who had time to gameplan against him and would match up their top defenders against him.
Beniers bulked up this summer, adding 12 pounds to his frame to prepare for the grind that is 82 games. The NHL schedule is much longer than the NCAA schedule that the 2021 second overall pick, Beniers, is used to playing at the University of Michigan.
A funny thing about all that worry is that he has picked up right where he left off, and maybe, if it’s even possible, gotten better.
Beniers scored twice and had an assist during Tuesday’s track meet in Los Angeles against the Kings, and heading into Thursday night’s game against the Washington Capitals he has 11 points in his last five games and leads all NHL rookies in scoring. In 22 games this season, he’s scored nine times with 11 assists.
His current hot streak comes on the heels of not scoring a point for six straight, making it look like maybe he was hitting a rookie wall.
Beniers smashed through that.
“While he wasn’t scoring, he continued to do things that make players successful,” John Forslund, Kraken play-by-play voice for ROOT Sports, told Seattle Sports’ Brock and Salk on Wednesday. “He continued to work defensively, he continued to be better in the faceoff circle, working hard every day at practice.
“You know, those are real positive signs for a rookie. And then you complement him with two guys like (Jared) McCann and (Jordan) Eberle, and since (Kraken coach) Dave Hakstol adjusted the lines and put McCann with Beniers and Eberle, the fits have been really good for all three guys.”
It’s the work ethic of Beniers that is more exciting than the goals and assists.
Beniers practices hard and is often the last one off the ice. A couple of hours before puck drop, he can be seen in shorts, a t-shirt, hat backward on the ice just off the Seattle bench stick handling by himself. And during warmups, he routinely uses players prone on the ice stretching as puck-handling obstacles, never passing up an opportunity to improve his game.
The combination of a player willing to put in that type of work along with the skill is what has veterans of NHL hockey excited about how far Beniers can take his game.
Forslund, who cut his teeth calling Hartford Whalers games and followed the franchise when it moved to Carolina and became the Hurricanes, has seen the combination of skill and work before.
“I see a lot in him that goes all the way back to my initial memories of a player like Ron Francis,” Forslund said, referring to the Kraken’s own general manager, who was a Hall of Fame player with Hartford, Pittsburgh, Carolina and Toronto. “It sounds a little hokey because it’s his boss and it’s the GM and it’s a nice little Kraken story, but I remember Ronnie in the early 80s and how he broke in as a fourth overall pick. He joined a team in Hartford that wasn’t very good. He came in with the same kind of demeanor – really personable – and then oddly enough they wear the same number, right? And so he started to play the game and show off his intelligence on the ice, and I think that’s what you see with Matty.”
Beniers doesn’t look like a 20-year-old rookie on the ice. He plays with a savvy that’s beyond his years and experience.
It’s caught the attention of more than the hometown television announcer.
“Pretty dynamic player,” Carolina Hurricanes coach Rod Brind’amour said earlier in the season. “His skills are off the charts. You see that he’s got great pace and plays with a lot of confidence. He looks like he has been around a long time and you can’t teach that. It’s the kind of stuff the great ones all have.”
Beniers displays a ton of confidence, and even in the middle of his six-game scoreless streak didn’t look phased.
He plays a full 200-foot game and takes the defensive side of things as importantly as he does the offense. Beniers is still prone to a mistake from time to time, as are most rookies, but he seems to learn from them and take corrective action.
Beniers may not be the most popular Kraken player – yet – or even the best, but he is quickly becoming the young and exciting face of the franchise and should be for quite a long time. It’s easy to forget while watching him that he’s only 20 and just getting his feet wet in the NHL.
That’s a notion that should excite every Kraken fan.