Top prospect Matty Beniers still has a few things to accomplish before joining the Kraken | Kraken
Matty Beniers expected things to be a little different this time around.
A year ago, he was part of Team USA’s world junior team as the United States won the championship. He finished with one goal and two assists. It was played without spectators.
When he arrived in Edmonton, Alta. To self-quarantine ahead of this year’s tournament, the plan was to return to a full house. The new wave of COVID-19 had other ideas, and the tournament will start with 50% capacity.
This does not mean that the mission has changed; this is just another chapter in a hockey career that for Beniers continued to focus on COVID.
“I think now as a group we know what it takes to win,” he said. “There was a taste, so I think we’re just going to use what we liked last year and what we think we are doing well and try to implement it in this team.
“Obviously we have a different group, a different group of guys. We’re obviously not going to be exactly the same team as last year, but we’re going to try to do a bunch of things that we loved from last year that probably have similar core values.
Beniers was the Kraken’s first pick in the NHL Draft, selected second overall in July. He chose to return to Michigan for his second season and called it an “advantage” to be able to represent the United States again in this tournament.
He said he wants to win a national championship with the Wolverines and will think about his future in the NHL after that.
That he has a future in the NHL is the result of his hard work, said his first high school coach, although he always had the tools to be a star.
“The first week he came out on the ice with us to train at the age of 14 there were 16, 17 and 18 year olds on the ice,” said Milton coach. Academy, Paul Cannata. “And that’s something that’s hard to describe when you see the way he uses his hands, feet and mind, all working together at a very high pace.
“He clearly stood out even though his physique was not great. Most players get one or two of these three attributes, even at the National Hockey League level. You know, very few players have good feet, good hands, a great mind – all of those attributes. “
The ninth grade is young, but that’s when the college and junior radars start to go off for recruiting. A strong freshman season sent Beniers to the USHL and the United States National Development Program.
He was supposed to stay close to home and attend Harvard, but like everything else in his young career, COVID changed those plans. The Ivy League didn’t play in 2020, so he moved to Michigan.
It set the stage for a great team. Michigan is ranked third in the country and is one of the favorites for the national championships.
Beniers is not a small part of it; he was named assistant captain of the United States team and took on a leadership role at just 19.
“This year I’ll still be a player and I play defense and attack, but you know I hope I will put in a few more goals at the back and other games,” he said. “So that’s kind of my theme for this year. And I also think being an older guy, you know, maybe take a more leadership role this year and help some of the younger guys.
These Junior Worlds mean something different for Beniers. He’s been there before and knows what it’s like to win. He is one of five players who were on last year’s squad to compete, pre-vaccine availability and still early in the story of how COVID has affected the sport.
He, like everyone else, had hoped that this time would be more normal.
“It’s good to train and finish knowing who you’re going to play with,” he said ahead of the tournament. “Or like who your teammates are. But this process has been quite fun. And I think now it’s getting a little more real. And so I think everyone is anxious to get out. Especially get out of hotel rooms and go.
Beniers, who collected an assist on the opening goal of their scrum loss Thursday to Finland, spent time watching his future squad on December 1 when the Kraken were in Detroit. He sat down with GM Ron Francis and watched the team go to their first shootout, which they lost.
“I watch (the Kraken matches) usually with my roommates, not every day,” he said. “I’m not the type to sit down and watch every game. … (In Detroit) it was cool to see the jerseys and get a feel for the team and the coaching staff. Obviously that’s where I’ll be soon, hopefully, so it was good to have a face-to-face level of comfort.
Being one of the top picks in the draft comes with expectations regardless of the team, but being the Kraken’s top pick in his first season carries a different weight.
Not only is Beniers the Kraken’s best prospect, he’s their elite top prospect and, in many eyes, the future of the franchise.
Despite this apparent pressure, being drafted was actually a relief. He doesn’t have as much to play for the Boy Scouts.
For a player whose entire perspective arc came during the pandemic, knowing anything for sure goes a long way.
“I think it probably takes a little weight off you when the scouts aren’t around to watch you. They mostly watch other guys, ”said Beniers. “So I think maybe a little bit of weight, but I think in that kind of scenario you don’t really think about it at all.
“Even last year. I think everyone is really focused on the team and what the team needs and wants, and everyone was focused on winning this gold medal. I think that’s the kind of environment this tournament creates. It’s so hard to win that everyone kind of reverses their individual effort, like the individual accolades, and is really going to do it for the team.
This team-first mentality is common in hockey, but Cannata saw it during Beniers’s freshman year of high school. This is another attribute that sets Beniers apart.
“One of our assistant coaches at the start of this season said, ‘We’re going to pay some money to watch him play someday,’” Cannata said. “Those subtle little games, it wasn’t like he scored five goals. It would be more solid training for the players as we could say, ‘How did he know that guy was there? It’s on and off his stick so fast. He really stands out, you know, even from good players. “