Kraken Check-In: How is Matty Beniers’ 2nd season going?
Jan 9, 2024, 12:40 PM | Updated: 7:12 pm
(Steph Chambers/Getty Images)
The Seattle Kraken have rebounded from a rough start to 2023-24, as their current seven-game win streak has gotten them over .500 for the first time in this NHL season.
A similar thing could be said about the player that many hope will be the face of the franchise, Matty Beniers.
The 6-foot-2, 178-pound center ran away in the voting to win the Calder Memorial Trophy as the NHL’s rookie of the year for 2022-23. He earned 160 of a possible 196 votes for first place after leading the league’s rookies in goals (24), points (57) and plus/minus (plus-14) in 80 games, while also ranking second in assists (33).
But after his sterling debut campaign helped the Seattle Kraken reach the Stanley Cup Playoffs in just their second season of existence, he had trouble repeating his performance out of the gate this fall. In fact, his plus/minus (the specific goal differential for a player’s team when they are on the ice) was at minus-12 through 11 games, when he finally registered his first positive plus/minus this season in a single game.
“I think he’s learned a life lesson in hockey,” said John Forslund, a longtime NHL broadcaster who is the voice of the Kraken on ROOT Sports, when he joined Seattle Sports’ Wyman and Bob last week. “… I think what we saw in the first six to eight weeks of the season a player that had lost his way, and a player that had lost his way offensively and then lost his confidence. And because he was losing confidence, he was forgetting how to play defensively. He was forgetting where to go on the ice to put himself in a better spot to break the puck out to defend better. And because of that, his plus/minus started go down around a minus-20, which is very uncharacteristic because he’s smarter and he’s better than that.”
How Beniers turned things around
Why were things tough in the opening months this season for Beniers?
“As he progressed through his first year, there was a lot of awareness, obviously, and there was a lot of gameplanning against him,” Forslund said. “But as this season started, the first number in terms of the forwards that the other coach would circle is No. 10 (Beniers’ number), and that’s tough, and it’s tough for him to learn.”
The Kraken have won nine of their last 11 games – and earned a point in the standings in each of those 11 games, as well. Beniers’ play has been a big part of it, as his plus/minus over that stretch is plus-seven, with no individual games in the minus category. He also has five points on his own in those 10 games.
“What’s happened is he’s turned the corner, and you can see it. You can see the step that he has now; he doesn’t appear to be as slow,” Forslund said. “Usually when players appear slow, it’s because they don’t have confidence. He’s going now with a purpose and conviction, which we saw in his first year, even when he had scoring droughts. Even when he went six, seven games without a point, his defensive game never vacillated, he never came off of it. This season it did, so I think it’s a lesson for him.”
Beniers’ role for Seattle Kraken
The 21-year-old Beniers is learning how important it is for the Kraken that he plays well due to his position and the expectations that come with being a talented former first-round pick.
“He’s learned (that) he’s surrounded by a lot of players, but when he’s not going, then Jordan Eberle is not going right. And whoever the left winger is, whether it be (Jaden) Schwartz or (Jared) McCann as it was at the front of the season – you know, it’s difficult,” Forslund said.
That’s not to say the Kraken’s resurgence is entirely due to Beniers finding his footing again. Their recent stretch of success has almost completely coincided with the addition of forward Tomas Tatar in a trade with Colorado, which has had a direct impact on Beniers because they are now playing on the same line.
“There was a trade made about three weeks ago and Tomas Tatar came in, a veteran guy who wasn’t scoring with his new team in Colorado, didn’t have a good slot in that lineup because of the star power that they have,” Forslund said. “So (Kraken general manager Ron) Francis went out and got him, they put him on on Beniers’ line with Eberle and now that’s a good fit, and you see Matty now starting to play off of him a little bit.”
The adjustment period
Forslund related Beniers’ brief second-year slump to what Seattle Mariners star Julio Rodríguez, who was also a Rookie of the Year winner a year ago, went through in 2023.
“I think Julio went through a little bit of that at the beginning of the baseball season. It’s hard for a young player to just automatically show up and do it again, but as they learn these lessons and they get it, then you have perennial output, perennial stats that are always there and that leads to stardom. I’m not saying this guy is going to be – I’m not going to go there and put that pressure on him, but the expectation is that he will get there, and I think he’ll work hard enough to be there someday and be the centerpiece of the franchise. … I think he’s going to have a great second half. I really do. We all know he’s going to be here a long time.”
You can listen to the full Wyman and Bob conversation with ROOT Sports Seattle Kraken broadcaster John Forslund in the podcast at this link or in the player near the top of this post.