A mere 47 hours separates the upcoming Seattle Kraken expansion draft and the NHL entry draft. That’s a whole lot of new players headed to Seattle in a short window of time. While the expansion draft will likely dominate NHL coverage, especially in the Seattle area, the Kraken’s first ever entry draft is an equally important moment in shaping the future of the franchise.
Odds are that Buffalo will select defenseman Owen Power with the first pick this year. But that second overall selection, owned by the Kraken, seems much murkier on the surface. Which is why this week, we’ll break down five candidates for the Kraken’s first every draft pick. Up first, a look at a forward that’s been mocked to Seattle on several occasions.
Beniers is an 18-year old center out of the University of Michigan. He’s a decent size at 6’1” and plays a full 200-ft game, adding value in all three zones. While he might not project to be the greatest goal-scorer in this draft, his all-around ability makes him an all-but consensus top-5 pick in 2021.
Matt Beniers (2021) is quite good in transition pic.twitter.com/84gzbqTo0x
— Kevin Papetti (@KPapetti) December 29, 2020
Aside from having the talent of a top draft pick, there are two other big reasons Beniers seems primed to become the first selection in Kraken franchise history.
He plays a position of need
Corey Pronman of The Athletic mocked Beniers to Seattle in his first 2021 mock draft at the end of June and he made a short but important point: Seattle is going to be lacking at the center position right away.
Technically, right now the Kraken only have one player under contract, and he plays the center position, so this seems like a strange argument. But the expansion draft will not be kind to them in terms of available centers. It’s the forward position with the most responsibility both offensively and defensively and generally seen as a key piece to winning a Stanley Cup. Look through any mock expansion draft, you won’t find many reliable NHL-caliber centers available.
We need not look further than Vegas for evidence of the lack of center availability in the expansion draft. Vegas is now four years into existence and aside from William Karlsson, whom nobody expected to see the kind of success he’s had there, they still don’t have a reliable top-6 center.
While some might think it’s as simple as drafting the best player available since the team has an empty roster, it’s important to remember that this won’t be an empty roster when the entry draft rolls around. Seattle will have players under contract, they’ll have roster strengths, and they’ll have roster weaknesses, just like every other NHL team. J.T. Brown, recently hired as a TV analyst for Seattle, made this point in an interview with Erica L. Ayala on episode one of the Locked on Kraken podcast:
“You have to see who in the expansion draft you have…you’re sort of setting yourself up based on who you’ve already chosen with what you want to do in the regular draft.”
In the regular draft, some centers, such as Kent Johnson (also out of the University of Michigan) might project better at a winger position, where Johnson spent much of last season. But Beniers looks like a bona fide center, and even if he doesn’t have a day-one impact on the Kraken, simply having that developing center in the system for the future would be a huge boost for the franchise.
He fits Dave Hakstol’s style
New head coach Dave Hakstol has a history as a head coach in the NHL as well as the NCAA. In his time in the NHL, his team tended towards a low-event, solid defensive style of play. A coach that puts extra value in good defense should love a top prospect that has frequently been praised for his defensive prowess.
Matt Beniers rags the puck for nearly 20 seconds while killing a penalty.
— /Cam Robinson/ (@Hockey_Robinson) January 9, 2021
In his draft profile at The Hockey Writers, Beniers drew pro comparisons to Chicago Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews. In addition to the high praise that brings, it also alludes to another connection to Seattle. Toews spent some formative college years playing at the University of North Dakota under none other than Dave Hakstol.
Obviously Hakstol can’t be given full credit for making Toews into a star NHL player, but this does show that Hakstol has experience taking a young, highly-talented two-way forward and aiding in his development into an NHL caliber player.
The drawback with Beniers is that his ceiling is considered by many analysts to be capped by a lack of elite offensive skills. He does everything well and in all likelihood will be a good player in the NHL, but is it worth spending the second overall pick on a player that may never truly develop into that top-line center? He’d be a valuable piece of the future core of the franchise, but making a selection at number two overall typically comes with a chance to grab a player with superstar upside, the one trait that Beniers just might lack.