There is little debate as to how much rookie center Matty Beniers means to the Seattle Kraken as a fledgling franchise. The 19-year-old pivot was the organization’s first-ever draft pick, chosen second overall in 2021 behind his college teammate in defenseman Owen Power (Buffalo Sabres). He represents the hopeful future of the NHL’s 32nd franchise and after a miserable inaugural campaign last season, bringing him into the fold on a full-time basis was a certainty.
The American freshman made his professional debut as the 2021-22 regular season drew to a close, surprisingly posting nine points in 10 NHL games after leading the University of Michigan in scoring just a few weeks prior. Start with an extended summer to develop and mix in general manager Ron Francis’ ambitious offseason, and you have the recipe for a true Beniers breakout performance this season. We’re two weeks into the 2022-23 campaign, and he’s already whetting everybody’s appetite – let’s dive underneath the hood of his strong start to his second season.
Beniers’ Offensive Production Leads 2022-23 NHL Rookie Class
Given his draft pedigree, expectations for Beniers’ rookie season were set fairly high, and he’s arguably delivered more than the typical NHL freshman. In terms of his individual offensive production, he ranks at or near the top of the rookie leaderboards and has taken an early lead in the 2022-23 Calder Trophy race as a result.
|Individual Statistic (All Situations)
|Rookie Rank (Min. 10 mins played)
|9th (2nd among forwards)
Apart from pacing NHL freshmen in a number of offensive categories, he’s set the benchmark for his older, more established teammates. He’s tied with Andre Burakovsky for the team lead in assists and sits behind the Swedish winger for the most points on the Kraken so far this season. Seattle’s management undoubtedly envisioned Beniers playing a starring role at some point, but even they must be pleasantly surprised by his early performances.
Beniers has also been entrusted with a lot of responsibility on the defensive end in the early going, ranking third among Kraken forwards in average time-on-ice (ATOI) in all situations. Although his 50 faceoff attempts lag behind Yanni Gourde and Alexander Wennberg for the team lead, he sits second among all NHL rookies in that department. Another wrinkle to Beniers’ impressive start to his first full season is the fact that he isn’t being handed easy matchups or receiving overly favorable deployment. His 57.1% offensive zone start percentage ranks 12th among all Kraken skaters, around the middle of the pack in terms of where he starts his shifts. He’s also tallied three takeaways at 5v5, tied for fourth among all forwards.
Beniers had been lauded for his professional on-ice demeanor and maturity beyond his years during his draft year, so it’s not terribly shocking to already see him play like a wizened veteran. He’s projected to be a high-end second-line center during his peak at minimum, so it’s encouraging to see Beniers continue to ascend along that optimistic trajectory. Even so, his game is not without blemishes, but that’s to be expected for a player with fewer than 20 NHL games under his belt.
Beniers’ Two-Way Struggles Suggest Room for Improvement
As promising as Beniers’ scoring totals have been thus far, his defensive numbers have lagged behind in comparison. In terms of his share of shots and chances, the Kraken hover at or just below 50% with him on the ice, which doesn’t exactly scream outright dominance. I must reiterate that the sample size is still extremely small and should be taken with a grain of salt, but what would the sports analysis industry be if not reactionary? Here are his numbers at 5v5:
|On-Ice Statistic (At 5v5)
|Rookie Rank (Min. 10 mins played)
|14th (3rd among forwards)
|Shots For %
|Scoring Chances For%
|Expected Goals For%
In line with countless rookie centers before him, Beniers hasn’t enjoyed much success with winning faceoffs through his first few appearances. His success rate currently sits at 44%, which isn’t in liability territory, but is one of the few tangible aspects of his game that clearly require further development. It shouldn’t stir up much concern since even Sidney Crosby sputtered in the faceoff dot during his rookie campaign, only winning 45.5% of his draws while taking the 32nd-most faceoffs in the 2005-06 season. You may not be familiar with Crosby’s work, but things have worked out well for him if I recall correctly.
In fairness to him, Beniers’ workload has surpassed what the typical rookie forward takes on during their initial slate of games. He ranks fourth among Kraken forwards in average ice time at 5v5 and isn’t being shepherded away from difficult matchups and defensive assignments. Any criticisms are just nitpicking, given that none of his missteps are alarming or impossible to reform over time. Remember, Beniers isn’t even 20 years old and is already making an impact at the NHL level, and at this point, the sky is the limit for the young phenom.
Beniers Teasing Franchise Cornerstone Potential
For all of the excitement Beniers has already drummed up through the first two weeks of the season, fans should temper their expectations lest they unnecessarily burden the young center. While it’s true that he’s outperformed the typical rookie forward and is living up to his draft stock, he’s also playing the position with the most unforgiving learning curve. For better or for worse, he’ll have to contend with the likes of Connor McDavid, Anze Kopitar, Elias Lindholm, and Jack Eichel as the top centers in the Pacific Division, and playing against the best on a nightly basis can only serve him well in the long term.
The Kraken look to be going with a trial-by-fire method of development and have seen positive early returns on the whole. Still, he’s yet to show he can drive possession at even strength and has plenty of room to grow in terms of asserting himself in the faceoff circle. However, those are all minor concerns that can and should be ironed out over the next few months. Kraken fans should look toward the big picture and realize they’ve already got one of the NHL’s most valuable assets: a future number-one center.