SEATTLE – If you’re wondering why you should watch a hockey team that’s lost 20 more games than it has won and sits at the bottom of the Pacific Division, the answer lies in a 19-year-old rookie.
The Kraken might not have had the success much of Seattle was hoping for in their inaugural season, but they might have just provided a jolt in the form of a 175-pound Massachusetts native.
A day after agreeing to a three-year entry-level contract with the Kraken, center Matty Beniers introduced himself to the media Monday after his first practice with the team. And the No. 2 overall pick from last year’s amateur draft made it clear he’s ready to embrace hockey’s top tier.
“I’m excited to take it all in and be a sponge,” said Beniers, who played college hockey at Michigan this season. “I’m gonna try to get my feet under me and make as much of an impact as I can.”
Talented as Beniers might be, he is still a teenager entering a grown man’s league. Excited as the brass might be to bring him up, they’re putting the kibosh on the immediate hype. It’s fun to wonder what a prodigy might bring when he makes his NHL debut, which will have to wait at least a day because Tuesday’s game against the Flames in Calgary, Alberta, was postponed due to a snowstorm.
But Kraken coach Dave Hakstol made sure to emphasize that this is simply the beginning of a long process.
On Monday, a reporter asked Hakstol what the plan for Beniers was over the next few games. His response? Easy there, fella.
“Everybody slow down a little bit here, let’s just slow down. My big thing for Matt is to be able to come into our dressing room, become comfortable in that environment with his teammates, work hard every day and enjoy the process of adjusting to this level,” Hakstol said. “There’s gonna be good opportunity there. He’s gonna have to work for that opportunity just like anybody else. But let’s walk before we run.”
Fair enough, but you can’t blame fans for wanting to get a peek at the man they’re hoping becomes one of the game’s next superstars. Beniers is coming off a college season in which he led the Wolverines with 43 points, scoring 20 goals to go with 23 assists. His production helped Michigan reach the Frozen Four, where its title hopes were crushed by eventual champion Denver in overtime.
Beniers’ commitment to winning a national championship was impressive to Kraken general manager Ron Francis, who noted that Matty could have played this season “with one foot out the door.” Now he tries to find his footing in the NHL.
No, this isn’t a late-season acquisition that could help vault Seattle into the playoffs. The postseason isn’t happening for this struggling squad, but the Beniers signing could offer a glimmer of hope for the future of this franchise.
Look no further than Chris Pronger or Evgeni Malkin or Marcel Dionne if you want to know what kind of impact a No. 2 overall pick can have. That said, Francis shares Hakstol’s position in not expecting too much from the kid right away.
These final 2½ weeks of the season are essentially an acclimation period to prepare for the grind of 2022-23, when the Kraken hope to become contenders.
“This is the start of a process for him. The player you see now is not gonna be the player he is five months from now or two years from now,” Francis said. “It’s gonna be a process for him to continue to grow and get better, and we’re excited to help him in that growth.”
Beniers said it was “funny” to have people in the stands Monday at the Kraken’s practice in Northgate, something he isn’t used to. Truth is, he is about to have more eyes on him than ever before.
Ten games remain on Seattle’s schedule, including five at Climate Pledge Arena. That’s not a ton of time for a young player to develop, but it will offer a thumbnail of his capabilities.
People are excited. Maybe a little nervous, too. Well, people not named Matty Beniers are nervous, at least.
“I don’t think I’ll have a ton of nerves,” Beniers said. “Once the game starts, like I said, it’s hockey. I’ve been doing it for my whole life.”