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Sports >  NHL

Matty Beniers shines in Kraken’s preseason opener win over Edmonton

Sept. 27, 2022 Updated Tue., Sept. 27, 2022 at 9:26 p.m.

By Geoff Baker Seattle Times

SEATTLE – Things couldn’t have gone much better for those hoping Kraken rookie Matty Beniers would pick up where left off over the final 10 games of last season.

Beniers was clearly the best player on the ice Monday night in his team’s 3-0 preseason victory over the Edmonton Oilers, and it wasn’t particularly close. While the Oilers were minus Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl and a host of other A-listers, the Climate Pledge Arena crowd got to see 19-year-old Beniers flash his shooting skills in a penalty-filled game otherwise largely devoid of 5-on-5 offense.

“Playing those 10 games helps you kind of get acclimated,” Beniers, the team’s No. 2 overall draft pick from July 2021, said of joining the Kraken in April after playing a second full NCAA season with the University of Michigan. “You know more guys in the locker room and you feel a little bit more comfortable. So, it was definitely really helpful being able to do that.”

But Beniers added that his confidence boost had little bearing on the game’s opening goal, a blistering short-side beauty over the shoulder of Oilers goaltender Olivier Rodrigue. Even veteran players sometimes lack the confidence to try sneaking one by from that angle, but Beniers acted as if he’d been there, done that.

“I think it’s the same,” he said of the shot selection. “I don’t think that’s changing too much.”

The Kraken wouldn’t want want him to, given he totaled nine points in his first 10 regular-season games last spring doing what made him so draft-worthy to begin with. Beniers opened this night centering the Kraken’s second line with Ryan Donato to his left and Oliver Bjorkstrand to his right, and the trio was the home team’s best looking at even strength.

Donato extended the lead to 2-0 at 14:15 of the middle period with a solid individual effort to chase down a pass hurled up the sideboards by Kraken goalie Joey Daccord. He fooled freshly inserted Oilers goalie Ryan Fanti with a wraparound goal, feinting an initial shot that got the goalie to commit his body toward the puck.

But instead, Donato continued around the net and finished the play by tucking the puck into the vacated open side while sprawled on the ice. Daccord drew the lone assist on the play.

“It’s a big part of my game,” said Daccord, who’d replaced starting goalie Martin Jones a few minutes earlier as planned. “I feel like I’m pretty good with the puck and like to help out my defensemen and stuff. I try not to force those plays, but I just saw Ryan (Donato) jumping off the bench out of the corner of my eye and figured I’d give it a try.”

Donato had long seen Daccord making such plays growing up facing each other in the Boston area and was ready for the pass when it happened. He also had a front-row seat watching Beniers and said their entire line with Bjorkstrand felt in sync from the start.

“It was awesome,” he said. “It definitely built throughout the game. It was a little tough to get into the flow with all of the penalties and stuff at the beginning. But we definitely found chemistry. It was easy to find. I mean, when you play with good players, you know where they’re going to be exactly.”

Donato’s goal looked to be enough on a night the Oilers weren’t anything like the team that terrorizes opposing defenders when McDavid and Draisaitl show up. They had an early goal called back for incidental contact on goalie Martin Jones and didn’t look particularly threatening until the Kraken handed them a 5-minute power play at the end of the second period when junior prospect Jacob Melanson nearly took off Edmonton forward James Hamblin’s head with a neutral zone elbow.

Melanson was ejected for the illegal head shot, and the Kraken’s penalty kill – flawless all night – got its most extended session of work. It would also be the Kraken getting the best scoring opportunities of the 5 minutes, first when veteran farmhand Max McCormick was stopped by Fanti on a clear-cut breakaway.

Then, just 43 seconds into the final period and with the Kraken still short-handed, Brandon Tanev raced down the right side on a 2-on-1 break and slipped a perfect pass to Morgan Geekie for a one-timed short-handed goal to close out the scoring.

The Kraken’s power play also was largely frustrated by the Oilers, going 0 for 6 and managing eight shots total despite the primary unit featuring new summer acquisitions Andre Burakovsky, Bjorkstrand and defenseman Justin Schultz along with Beniers and Alexander Wennberg.

Still, Kraken coach Dave Hakstol was pleased with the way they threw the puck around with greater speed and confidence as the game progressed. Other than a late Bjorkstrand chance that hit Wennberg and stayed out of the net, Beniers had the unit’s other strong opportunity – blistering a one-timer from the right circle in the opening period that goalie Rodrigue deflected from harm’s way.

Hakstol said Beniers has been “driving the compete level” both with the man advantage and at even strength.

“Right from Day 1 of camp, he’s been skating well and been really confident with the puck,” Hakstol said. “Right now, he’s seeing the ice really well, honestly. So, it’s a real positive.”

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