There it is! The Seattle Kraken officially selected Matthew Beniers as their first-ever pick in the NHL Entry Draft on Friday. Since Seattle was awarded the No. 2 overall spot in the Draft Lottery back on June 2, scouts and pundits have been zeroing in on defenseman Owen Power and his University of Michigan teammate Beniers as the likely top-two picks. The Buffalo Sabres, who held the top pick, and the Kraken both took the chalk.
Beniers, an 18-year-old center from Hingham, Mass., is regarded as perhaps the most NHL-ready player in this pool of draft-eligible players, thanks to his powerful skating, relentless approach, and willingness to compete at both ends of the ice. Making him extra valuable is his natural ability as a center, typically the hardest position at which to find elite talent.
After Wednesday’s Expansion Draft, it became immediately clear that the Kraken’s initial roster is strong on the blue line but lacks depth up front and especially in the middle. According to Kraken general manager Ron Francis in his pre-draft availability, this didn’t factor into the decision to take Beniers.
“We really haven’t drafted anybody to this point on the amateur side,” Francis said. “So, I think for us it’s getting the best player available at that position No. 2. [We’re] not really concerned about position as much as just the player himself.” Still, there’s no question that Seattle’s current setup is heavy on defense, so whether this was a factor or not, it should pay dividends in the relatively near future to get some center talent in their very shallow pipeline.
Beniers really emerged as a future top-line NHLer this year with his appearances as the only draft-eligible player on Team USA at both the World Junior Championship and the IIHF World Championship. At the WJC, he had a goal and two assists in seven games, and at the World Championship—where he was competing against current NHL players—he posted a goal and an assist in six games.
At Michigan, he was a point-per-game player as a freshman and before that, he was at or near a point per game at every stage of his career with the US National Team Development Program in Ann Arbor, Mich. It’s not really his scoring touch that makes him so good, though; it’s his all-around play in every zone on the ice. He never quits, never cheats, and does as much in the defensive zone as he does in the offensive zone.
Like Power, it remains to be seen if Beniers will make the jump to immediately turn pro or if he will return for a second year with the Wolverines. Amongst the trio of Power, Beniers, and Kent Johnson, it was a common theme at the top prospects media availability on July 6 that those players do not feel like they’ve gotten the true college experience at Michigan to this point, so take that as you will.
Whenever he does make the jump, the Kraken will have a potential cornerstone player for many years to come in Matty Beniers.
Darren Brown is the Chief Content Officer at Sound Of Hockey and the host, producer, and editor of the Sound Of Hockey Podcast. He is an inconsistent beer league goalie who believes that five players have to make a mistake before the puck gets to him. Follow him on Twitter @DarrenFunBrown or email firstname.lastname@example.org.