BUMP AND STACY

Kraken GM Ron Francis: Beniers’ All-Star nod, team’s improvement, trade deadline

Jan 7, 2023, 11:55 AM
Seattle Kraken Matty Beniers...
Matty Beniers of the Seattle Kraken skates against the St. Louis Blues on December 20, 2022. (Steph Chambers/Getty Images)
(Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

The Seattle Kraken have been one of the better surprises in the NHL this year.

Seattle Kraken beat Maple Leafs 5-1 for 3rd straight victory

The inaugural 2021-22 season didn’t go well for the Kraken, who went 27-49-6 (60 points), which was the third-worst record in the league.

Seattle’s fortunes have changed drastically in the 2022-23 season, however, as the Kraken enter Saturday’s game in Ottawa with a 21-12-4 record (46 points). If the season were to end today, Seattle would make the playoffs as the Kraken are in third place in the Pacific Division.

The man behind Seattle’s roster is general manager Ron Francis, an NHL Hall of Famer who has seen a lot of good things from his team this season. Francis joined Seattle Sports 710 AM’s Bump and Stacy on Friday to discuss the Kraken’s year so far.

First off, it’s hard to talk about the Seattle Kraken without discussing Matty Beniers.

The 20-year-old center ranks second on the team in points this season with 28 and he was named to the NHL All-Star Game earlier this week.

Is Francis surprised by how good Beniers has been already in his NHL career?

“I kind of said going back to last year at the end when we brought him up, I was surprised with how well he played,” Francis said, refrencing Beniers’ nine points in 10 games at the end of last season. “I knew he was a good player, but I thought it would take him some more time to adjust when he stepped in last year. And as the GM, you worry ‘OK, he had some success in 10 games (last year), is he really gonna put in the time and effort he needs to in the summer?'”

That hasn’t been an issue this year with Beniers as he’s been one of the Kraken’s best and most reliable players.

“Matty, he’s that kind of kid. He’s just terrific. He came right in from Day 1 of training camp and worked extremely hard. He sets the pace along with some of our other veteran guys in practice. And in games, he’s just always working, working, working,” Francis said. “So we’re really excited that he’s got this opportunity where the league picked him to represent us in the All Star Game, and we know he’ll represent us well.”

As far as the entire Kraken team, why have they been so much better this year than last season? Francis said it’s pretty simple.

“I just think in the overall lineup, you look at how we were able to sign some some unrestricted free agents in the summer,” he said. “(Forward Andre) Burakovsky being one, (defenseman Justin) Schultz on the back end being two, (Martin) Jones as a goaltender … that certainly helped in our lineup. We were able to make a trade for (forward Oliver) Bjorkstrand, that helped in our lineup. Matty is in our lineup full-time this year when he wasn’t last year.”

Additionally, the Kraken have gotten two key players back from injury in center Jaden Schwartz and forward Brandon Tanev, both of whom missed more than half of Seattle’s games last year due to injury.

“I think we’ve just become faster, which is what we wanted to do. We’ve become more skilled – I think we’re able to sort of possess the puck and create more opportunities in the offensive zone,” Francis said. “I think our our power play started off great, had a real tough spell there, but now we’re starting to get back to scoring, which is good. And I think we’re a group of guys that understand we have to come and work hard every night, and if we do that with the skill that we’ve kind of added to the lineup, that gives us a better chance to win.

“Fortunately for the guys, they’re getting some results and I think it’s exciting for our guys to do that in front of our fans.”

With the Kraken succeeding so far, there are some fans looking ahead to the March 3 trade deadline.

Francis said there’s “a lot of kicking tires” right now, but not much is happening yet.

What will be interesting, Francis said, is how the 2023 World Junior Ice Hockey Championships impacts the deadline.

That’s because Connor Bedard, who won the Gold with Team Canada alongside top Kraken prospect Shane Wright, had a monster tournament and is expected to be the No. 1 overall pick in this summer’s draft.

“It’ll be interesting to see how with this tournament and the success that Mr. Bedard had in it whether that speeds up some teams trying to move players or not,” Francis said.

For the Kraken, though, Francis stressed that the team is still early on in its process.

“We want to make sure that we stick to our plan and build this long-term,” he said. “But if there’s pieces that we feel we can add that make sense and that help us be more successful, we’re certainly open to doing that as long as the price is is right.”

Listen to the full conversation with Francis at this link or in the player below.

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