Kraken’s top draft pick, Matty Beniers, will spend the final two weeks of the season showing the team where he is in terms of NHL preparation.
Beniers, 19, the Kraken’s No. 2 draft pick last summer, agreed to terms on a three-year entry-level contract on Sunday and was due to accompany the team on a road trip to the Western Canada which will see him make his NHL debut on Tuesday in Calgary. The signing had been expected since Beniers and his team from the University of Michigan were eliminated last Thursday in the semifinals of the NCAA “Frozen Four” championship in Boston.
“We’ll get him out on the ice in practice tomorrow, and then the plan is to get him out on Tuesday,” Kraken general manager Ron Francis said Sunday.
Francis said the team won’t be throwing Beniers “into the deep end” just yet, especially with back-to-back games in Calgary and then Winnipeg on Wednesday.
“It’s more for him just to understand better,” Francis said. “It’s a taste of the league and the quality of the big league. And so, that’s understanding systems a bit. I think that gives him a pretty good education in a short amount of time. And then it sets him up for a good, solid summer of training, putting on some weight and preparing him for next year.
Francis attended the “Frozen Four” until its conclusion on Saturday when the University of Denver – which had beaten Beniers and the Wolverines in overtime – defeated Minnesota State for the title. After Michigan’s loss, Beniers immediately returned to Michigan with the team. But Francis had dinner with Beniers’ parents and siblings in Boston on Friday and kept in touch with the player and his agent, Pat Brisson, by phone that day and Saturday until the deal was done. .
Beniers, who played two seasons for Michigan, announced his departure from school on Sunday with a tweet featuring a Photoshopped photo of himself in a Wolverines uniform staring at the Seattle skyline. It included the message: “See you soon”, along with an octopus emoji – meant to represent a Kraken.
A statement released by the team soon after quoted Beniers saying, “It is truly an honor to join the Kraken organization and I can’t wait to get started. Although we didn’t reach our goal, I loved my time in Michigan and can’t wait to move on to the next leg of my trip. Getting drafted last summer was surreal and I’m thrilled to be coming to Seattle.
Francis said Beniers needed time after Thursday’s loss to figure out what happened and decide to quit school.
“Part of the reason we like him is that he’s all-in,” Francis said. “He works hard every shift. He works at both ends and this was no different. In his mind, he was all about winning a national championship and when that didn’t happen, I think it threw him off a bit.
“He took a step back and kind of reassessed where he was and where everything was. And as the process progressed, I think it was increasingly clear to him that this was the right way to go.
By joining the Kraken now, Beniers can ‘burn’ one of the three years of his entry-level contract in the next few weeks alone – allowing him to qualify for restricted free agency and more cash a full season earlier.
NHL teams prefer not to lose that extra year of minimum wage control, but tend to allow the top 10 picks the luxury of burning through the year in this way in order to maintain positive player relations.
Beniers projects himself as a possible “top-six” — meaning anywhere on the front two lines — center at the NHL level and the Kraken have a relative lack of talent in that position. The team has been mixing and matching line combinations all season, with Alex Wennberg, Yanni Gourde and Jared McCann all seeing time centering the top lines.
While Beniers is not expected to transform the team overnight, he brings a degree of two-way playing ability that the Kraken will no doubt welcome into a team that is struggling to score goals consistently.
The Kraken have scored two goals or less in five of their previous six games. They entered Sunday with the third-worst record in the NHL at 23-43-6, one point ahead of Montreal and three ahead of Arizona.
Francis is not expecting much at the moment. He just wants Beniers to come into the dressing room, get to know his teammates and be ready for next season.
“We want to make sure we’re treating it right,” Francis said. “It’s a long-term game, it’s not a short-term game here. So, we want to do everything we can to help him succeed.