“He’s the kind of guy you want to start your franchise with.”
Ron Francis had the highest of praise for the Seattle Kraken’s first draft pick in franchise history, Matty Beniers.
With the second overall selection, Francis went with the chalk pick and took the Michigan center frequently praised for his ability to play at both ends of the ice. At his ceiling, he’s been compared to Chicago captain Jonathan Toews.
In Beniers, the Kraken are getting a player who at worst will be an NHL-caliber defensive center, and at best would be a top-6 center that plays on both the power play and the penalty kill. Beniers is known for playing tough defense and having the ability to flip the play to the other end of the ice.
Love this shift from Beniers. Above supporting opponents on the rush to recover the puck and initiate a breakout. Attacks on an angle through transition, using width of ice and lateral crosses to gain speed which backs defenders off. Offers the safety valve pass option to Power pic.twitter.com/UnV5mKGkZk
— Justin Froese (@froesehky) January 8, 2021
The question now becomes how soon Beniers is ready to make the jump to the NHL. The 18-year old hasn’t shied away from the idea of heading back to Michigan for another year to make a run at a national championship. It would also give him more time to build muscle as he prepares to join the NHL, where he will face much larger competition than he has seen in college.
“Moving forward, for me it’s building strength, building muscle, continuing to work on scoring goals,” Beniers said in his post-draft interview. “That’s a big part of me moving to the next level is getting bigger, there’s a lot of bigger, stronger guys. I’m more on the leaner side but I’m definitely getting there, and I think a little time will help.”
Listed as 6’1” 175 lbs, Beniers isn’t exactly small but he does have room to grow. That hasn’t stopped him yet, however, as he’s managed to put up points at the college level, at the World Junior Championship, and at the IIHF Men’s World Championship. He helped his teams take home a gold medal and a bronze in the World Juniors and World Championship, respectively, but never got a satisfying ending to his collegiate season after Michigan was forced out of the NCAA Division I tournament due to COVID concerns. A point-per-game player at Michigan, that seems to be the one championship that got away. At least for now.
“I think they’re looking at it, you know, Owen Power, Matt Beniers, Kent Johnson, Luke Hughes, they think they got a chance to win a national championship,” said Francis. “In their minds, maybe it’s best to go back and play. We’ll have that discussion with Matty and we’ll make the decision we think is best for him.”
Maybe Beniers does go back to school for a year, but that shouldn’t take away from the fact that he’s a player any team would be ecstatic to have, both from a hockey perspective and from a character perspective.
On the ice, Beniers is phenomenal in transition. Mitch Brown of Elite Prospects manually tracks some advanced stats not found in junior leagues, and he had this to say on Beniers on an episode of the Controlled Entries podcast.
“With Beniers, you’re getting a guy who is very dynamic in transition…the thing that makes him really special compared to a lot of these other top prospects is that he’s not moving defensemen to the inside so he can take the outside—he’s moving them to the outside so he can go straight up the middle and make a play.”
Matthew Beniers doing Matthew Beniers things, fantastic play.
— Brandon Holmes (@BHolmes_Hockey) December 29, 2020
In addition to his high-end hockey skill, he brings the character that the Kraken are looking for and that, frankly, they really need as they build this brand new team from the ground up. Getting players that want to play for each other is key as more than 30 players arrive at training camp this summer and especially when 20 of them suit up on October 12th for their first game against the Vegas Golden Knights.
“A big part of what we look for not only is a good player but we look for character,” said Francis. “We think Matty exudes that.”
Director of Amateur Scouting Robert Kron would echo that sentiment during his media availability as he noted Beniers’ “unbelievable enthusiasm and work ethic” while discussing the importance of high-character players joining the team.
Talking with Beniers, it’s easy to see for yourself. For example, when asked about what he thought of teammate Owen Power going first overall, one spot ahead of him, Beniers made no remarks indicating he himself should’ve been the first overall pick instead, even in jest.
“Couldn’t have happened to a better guy. He’s so humble, he’s such a great person, he works so hard, that’s where he deserves to be.”
That’s the kind of teammate anyone should want to play with.
When Beniers finally does hit the ice in a Kraken uniform, be it this year or next, Seattle can be confident in knowing they got a great player that’s absolutely worthy of his draft status. Who knows, maybe in time Beniers will even take up the mantle of being the first captain in team history. He’s certainly got the potential.
— Sportsnet (@Sportsnet) July 24, 2021