The Seattle Kraken, the NHL’s newest franchise, can turn to a more traditional way of filling out their roster now that the expansion draft is out of the way. They have the second-overall pick at Friday’s NHL Entry Draft after bumping the Anaheim Ducks out of that spot thanks to better lottery luck than their fellow expansion team, the Vegas Golden Knights, had in 2017. While winning top spot would have brought them a franchise defenseman in Owen Power, the consolation prize, expected to be the University of Michigan’s Matthew “Matty” Beniers, is no one to scoff at.
Beniers, like so many draft-eligible prospects this year, had a shortened season in which to show off his skills, pile up points, and make an impression on scouts, but he did so in the time he had. He became the top-ranked forward on many draft rankings and developed his game to the point that it drew comparisons to one of the most complete players in the game, Jonathan Toews.
Seattle Shouldn’t Fear Sample Size
While some natural concern has to exist with this year’s draft, where the shortened junior seasons mean picks #2 through #9 could be made in any potential order, Beniers and Powers are the only two players in the draft whose rankings come close to a consensus. Berniers will be a consistent, if not elite, scorer, similar to Kraken Expansion draftee Jordan Eberle, but he also has a defensive awareness that should enable him to play any situation, even as a rookie.
“He stuck out as one of the best players of the tournament finishing with a goal and three points in seven games as Team USA walked away with the gold medal.”Matthew Zator, The Hockey Writers
The 6-foot-2 centre still needs to add to his frame, so physicality may not be part of his arsenal in the early days, but he already has championship pedigree. He won the U18 World Junior Championship bronze medal with Team USA in 2018-19, but Beniers wasn’t satisfied with that result, and his squad took home the gold at the 2020 tournament. Like Powers, he was invited to play with the men’s squad at the World Championship in January when his team won the bronze medal, and, impressively, there was little or no drop off in his point production playing against some of the world’s best.
Kraken’s Analytics Team Will Help Francis Make the Call
As they were heading into Wednesday’s Expansion Draft, Seattle’s Analytics team have been fully engaged since before the Draft Lottery, helping general manager Ron Francis identify who amongst the many talented prospects project to be true NHL talents. They’ve shown a willingness to use every analytical avenue available to them, and those tools should tell them what’s clear to anyone who’s seen Beniers in person: the kid can play.
The best players the Kraken selected at the Expansion Draft were clearly defensemen and goaltenders, meaning a young forward has a very good shot at cracking the lineup on opening night. Beniers’ highly developed puck handling and skating skills should help him establish his game at the pro level, with the rigours of an 82-game schedule being the most significant item to which he’ll need to adapt.
Related: The Hockey Writers 2021 NHL Draft Guide
While the selection seems close to certain, there’s no denying that Seattle surprised with some of their Expansion Draft selections and some of those they passed over as well. If the Kraken believe that one of Simon Edvinsson, William Eklund, or Mason McTavish project to have a higher ceiling than Beniers, then they’ll be right to trust their established process. But going off the board has its own risks, and with the divisional rival, Ducks selecting right behind them, picking someone other than Beniers could mean he makes the Kraken regret their decision several times a year for the foreseeable future.