Top Kraken draft pick Matty Beniers will spend the final two-plus weeks of the season showing the team where he’s at in terms of NHL readiness.
Beniers, 19, the Kraken’s No. 2 overall draft pick last summer, agreed to terms on a three-year entry level deal Sunday and was to accompany the team Monday on a Western Canada road trip that will see him make his NHL debut Tuesday in Calgary. The signing had been expected ever since Beniers and his University of Michigan squad were eliminated last Thursday in the semifinals of the ”Frozen Four” NCAA championship in Boston.
“We’ll get him on the ice in practice tomorrow and then the plan is to play him on Tuesday,” Kraken general manager Ron Francis said Sunday.
Francis said the team won’t throw Beniers “into the deep end” right away, especially with back-to-back games in Calgary and then Winnipeg on Wednesday.
“It’s more for him just to get a better understanding,” Francis said. “It’s a taste of the league and how good the big league is. And so, it’s understanding systems a bit. I think it gives him a pretty good education in sort of a short period of time. And then that sets him up for a good, strong summer of training, putting on some weight and getting him ready for next year.”
Francis attended the “Frozen Four” until its conclusion Saturday when the University of Denver – which had beaten Beniers and the Wolverines in overtime – defeated Minnesota State for the title. After Michigan’s loss, Beniers immediately flew back to Michigan with the team. But Francis had dinner with Beniers’ parents and siblings in Boston on Friday and kept in touch with the player and his agent, Pat Brisson, by phone that day and Saturday until the deal was reached.
Beniers, who played two seasons for Michigan, announced his departure from the school Sunday with a tweet featuring a Photoshopped picture of himself in a Wolverines uniform staring at the Seattle skyline. He included the message: “See you soon,” with an emoji of an octopus — meant to depict a Kraken.
A release put out by the team soon after quoted Beniers saying: “It’s truly an honor to join the Kraken organization and I can’t wait to get started. Although we fell short of our goal, I loved my time with Michigan and am looking forward to the next step in my journey. Being drafted last summer was surreal and I’m excited to get to Seattle.”
Francis said Beniers needed some time after Thursday’s loss to process what happened and decide to leave school.
“Part of why we like him is he’s all-in,” Francis said. “He works hard every shift. He works at both ends and that was no different. In his mind he was all-in on winning a national championship and when that didn’t happen I think it kind of threw him for a little bit.
“He took a step back and kind of reassessed where he was and where everything was. And as the process went along I think it was more and more clear to him that this was the right path to take.”
By joining the Kraken now, Beniers gets to “burn” one of the three years of his entry level deal in just these next few weeks — allowing him to qualify for restricted free agency and bigger money a full season early.
NHL teams would rather not lose that extra year of minimum salary control, but tend to allow top-10 picks the luxury of burning the year in such fashion in order to maintain positive relations with the player.
Beniers projects as an eventual “top-six” — meaning anywhere on the top two lines — center at the NHL level and the Kraken have a relative shortness of talent at the position. The team has been mixing and matching line combinations all season, with Alex Wennberg, Yanni Gourde and Jared McCann all seeing time centering the top trios.
While Beniers is not expected to transform the team overnight, he does bring a degree of two-way playmaking ability the Kraken undoubtedly will welcome on a team hard-pressed to consistently score goals.
The Kraken have scored two goals or fewer in five of their six previous games. They entered Sunday with the NHL’s third-worst record at 23-43-6, one point up on Montreal and three ahead of Arizona.
Francis isn’t expecting much right away. He just wants Beniers to get in the dressing room, start to know his teammates and be ready for next season.
“We want to make sure we handle him right,” Francis said. “This is a long-term play, this isn’t a short-term play here. So, we want to do everything we can to help him be successful.”