The Seattle Kraken have their first major NHL award winner. Matty Beniers won the Calder Memorial Trophy as the NHL’s rookie of the year at the league’s annual awards ceremony Monday in Nashville, beating out Buffalo Sabres defenseman and fellow University of Michigan alum Owen Power and Edmonton Oilers goalie Stuart Skinner.
“Thank you to the people that have gotten me to this point,” said Beniers in his acceptance speech on the stage at Bridgestone Arena. “Obviously my awesome family that has been here every step of the way since I was a little kid and up until this year. [To the] Kraken organization, support staff, coaches, you guys gave me that opportunity, and you guys supported me all throughout this year.”
Immediate NHL impact
The award was well deserved for Beniers, who arrived in Seattle at the tail end of the Kraken’s inaugural season and made an immediate impact at the NHL level. After Michigan’s season ended in the semifinal of last season’s Frozen Four, dashing the star-studded team’s hopes of an NCAA championship, Beniers signed his entry-level contract with the Kraken.
He made his NHL debut in Calgary on Apr. 12 and registered an assist, then scored goals in each of his first two home games. In all, he had nine points in 10 games during that short, late-season stint. Those 10 games at the end of last season were not enough to preclude Beniers from eligibility for the 2022-23 Calder Trophy.
“A year and a couple months ago when he played the 10 games, it was pretty eye opening for everybody,” said coach Dave Hakstol, who was also in Nashville as a finalist for the Jack Adams Award for coach of the year. “He came in and just seamlessly made the transition to the NHL.”
We tried to manage expectations that Beniers, 20, could struggle in his first full pro season, a year in which he would play 94 total games at NHL speed between the regular season and playoffs. That’s a huge leap from 2021-22, in which Beniers played just 58 total games spread across Michigan, the World Junior Championship, the Olympics, and the NHL.
Yet, aside from an occasional dip in production, Beniers impressed all season long, and our “managing expectations” approach to covering him was quickly thrown out the window.
“You can’t make up, or you can’t create presence, and Matty’s got presence,” said Hakstol. “He’s got a ton of it. When he walks into a room, it’s not his physical stature, it’s the way he carries himself, it’s his demeanor, it’s his confidence, it’s his work ethic, it’s that whole package.”
In his first full season, Beniers played top-line minutes centering Jordan Eberle and Jared McCann for much of the campaign. He fit right in and consistently looked like a veteran NHL forward, rather than a rookie who had stepped in from the college ranks. In fact, there were stretches of the season in which he truly looked like Seattle’s best player.
The future is bright for Beniers, who is just scratching the surface of his NHL career.
Beating out his college teammate
Adding intrigue to the Calder race was Power being included as one of the finalists. Beniers and Power played together for two seasons at Michigan before both turning pro around the same time. Power was selected No. 1 overall in the 2021 NHL Entry Draft, one spot ahead of Beniers.
“It’s pretty cool,” Beniers said Sunday. “If you told me a year ago that this would be the case, I’d probably say pinch me. It’s pretty cool that we’re both here and we’re both up for this award. He had an awesome year, so it’s just fun to be here and experience it.”
Bringing a very different skillset from that of Beniers, Power was a reliable player on Buffalo’s blue line and averaged nearly 24 minutes per night for the Sabres.
Power notched four goals and 31 assists in 2022-23. That wasn’t enough to overcome Beniers’s 57 points.