Tuesday night’s game between the Calgary Flames and Seattle Kraken was in many ways a representation of how the expansion franchise’s inaugural season has unfolded thus far. Dave Hakstol’s men took a 3-1 lead into the third period but crumbled under the Flames’ pressure and ended up losing 5-3 after conceding four consecutive goals. Like the team’s season, it started out positively but quickly devolved into a major disappointment.
Despite suffering their 50th cumulative loss of the season, the Kraken witnessed the NHL debut of their first-ever draft pick in center Matty Beniers, taken second overall in the 2021 Entry Draft. On top of tallying his first assist and point in the NHL, Beniers exhibited the poise that should see him anchor one of the Kraken’s top two lines for the next decade and change. Let’s dig into why his debut marks the beginning of a new dawn for the organization and that the only way is up from here.
Beniers Holds His Own in NHL Debut
In keeping with the playmaking ability that was much touted in numerous scouting reports, Beniers notched his first NHL point off of a slick cross-ice pass to Ryan Donato. Even in his first game, he exemplified the poise and vision that made many consider him among his draft class’s most NHL-ready prospects. Given how toothless the Kraken have been in attack this season (30th in goals per game), injecting more skill into the lineup can only be a good thing.
Apart from his assist, Beniers demonstrated that he could commit to playing a steady two-way game against one of the NHL’s best puck-possession outfits. While skating between Donato and Jordan Eberle, his line posted a positive margin in shot attempts (57.9%), scoring chances (66.7%), and expected goals (63.9%). It speaks volumes about his maturity that Hakstol trusted Beniers with so much ice-time (third among forwards at 5v5) against the Flames’ top-six forward group. It’s an extremely small sample size, but nothing about his game against the Pacific Division leaders suggested he’s anything other than capable of becoming a strong two-way pivot at his peak.
Beniers’ NCAA Career Suggests Offensive Capabilities
Beniers was part of a highly-touted freshman class at the University of Michigan, with three of the top five picks in the 2021 Draft hailing from the Wolverines. Luke Hughes (New Jersey Devils) joined the team last season, giving Michigan one of the most enviable collections of NHL prospects in recent memory on the collegiate circuit, with Beniers, Kent Johnson, Owen Power, Thomas Bordeleau, and Brendan Brisson rounding out a formidable core of underclassmen.
The 20-year-old Beniers finished the 2021-22 NCAA season with 43 points in 37 games, second among all sophomores in scoring. In pacing the Wolverines in scoring, he was named one of 10 finalists for the 2022 Hobey Baker Award, annually given out to the most outstanding player in NCAA Division I hockey. Although Michigan’s otherwise spectacular campaign came to a disappointing end in the Frozen Four, Beniers’ potential remains unquestioned.
Beniers also featured for the U.S. Olympic team as NHL players once again missed out on the international competition. The Americans crashed out early in the quarter-finals, but the young center still managed to tally two points in four games and didn’t look out of place against more difficult competition. His tenacity and forechecking prowess should translate well to the NHL, and he’s got the offensive tools to complement his already mature defensive game.
Beniers Will Be Joined by 2022 First-Round Pick
It’s no secret that the 2021-22 season hasn’t gone according to plan for the Kraken. Fortunately, their struggles will be rewarded with a high draft pick, with the franchise currently holding the third-best odds of securing the first-overall selection through the draft lottery.
The 2022 and 2023 editions have a number of talented youngsters up for grabs, with 2023, in particular, being tabbed as one of the momentous in recent memory. It may be painful for fans to stumble through another underwhelming season, but the prospect of adding a Connor Bedard or Matvei Michkov to the organization may be too tantalizing to pass up.
The question is whether general manager Ron Francis shares that sentiment, with the executive recently suggesting he’d look to make another big splash in free agency this offseason. At the moment, the Kraken own seven second-round picks over the next two drafts, so augmenting a shallow prospect pool should be the number one priority.
Beniers Is Candidate for 2022-23 Calder Trophy
The Kraken will give Beniers a full run-out for the remainder of this lost season, and that experience should serve him well in his first full NHL campaign. He will be part of a loaded freshman class that should include a number of his former Michigan teammates as well as the aforementioned Wright. He’s not a shoo-in for the award, but the Kraken should offer him plenty of opportunities to grow into a dependable, full-time NHL star. Stay patient, Kraken fans. The best is yet to come.