Anyone who questions the hockey toughness of a 175-pound 18-year-old who’s smart enough to gain admission to Harvard needs to understand that Matthew Beniers of Boston knows how to deliver a blow.
Asked what he knew of Seattle, the Kraken’s newest player said, smiling, “You kind of gave us that Super Bowl.”
Before Seattle sports fans consign Beniers to a lifetime in the sin bin for slashing their hearts, he insisted, “I actually like the Seattle Seahawks . . . That’s kind of the one team that I followed, because I like them.”
Apparently, he can skate backward.
Invoking the Seahawks’ loss to the New England Patriots is no way to begin sports relationships in Seattle. Then again, if anyone reading this said something dumb at 18, please get in line. Behind me.
And anyway, centerman Beniers (Beh-neers), the Kraken’s first amateur draft choice and the second overall pick in the 2021 NHL entry draft Friday, never made it to Harvard.
He had been accepted, and was ready to go, when the Ivy League in July bailed on its 2020 sports seasons because of COVID-19. A smart guy — he finished high school in two years — Beniers looked at his options. Junior hockey didn’t feel right, but a junior varsity university did — the University of Michigan (insert Jim Harbaugh glare and growl here).
He did well enough in a shortened season with the Wolverines — 10 goals and 14 assists in 24 games — that a full college season is beckoning him this winter. He also played 13 games for the U.S. at two international tournaments, but didn’t get into the NCAA men’s tournament because of positive COVID-19 tests within the team.
“Honestly, I don’t really know what the best thing is for me next year, whether it’s going back or going to play for the Kraken,” Beniers told reporters on a Zoom video conference from his family home in Hingham, MA. “I think it would be really exciting to go play for the Kraken. But I think going back for a year, I could keep building the confidence. I want to have a real year. I want to try and make a run at the national championship.
“Obviously, if that’s not the best decision for my development and me as a hockey player, then so be it. But I think those are kind of some perks, something that I kind of want to do. At the end of the day, it’s kind of what is the right thing for me to do as a hockey player and as a person.”
NHL draft rules allow teams to keep rights to players throughout their NCAA eligibility, so there’s no risk to Seattle of losing Beniers. It figures to be a negotiation, but good as Beniers is, it’s rare in hockey for a freshman to make a first-year jump to the NHL. And since two of his Wolverines teammates were drafted in the top five Friday, including No. 1 Owen Power by the Buffalo Sabres, there’s a real chance to win a Frozen Four title next season.
“We’ll have that conversation,” general manager Ron Francis said. “When we did the (in-person) interview, they’re looking at it. They think there’s a chance to win a national championship. In their minds, maybe it’s best to go back and play.
“We’ll make the decision we think is best for him.”
The pending decision doesn’t mean Beniers wasn’t thrilled about being validated by the draft.
“There’s so many words I can use describe it,” he said. “It’s surreal. It’s honestly amazing. I could not be happier. I’m at a loss of words just thinking about what just happened. Being drafted in the first place, going second overall and going to a new expansion team. I’m so unbelievably excited and thankful for everything.”
There’s no dithering about his pro future. Here’s what reporter Ryan Wagman of McKeen’s Hockey wrote this year:
“Beniers grades out well across the board, but rarely plays in a flashy style that brings you out of your seat. He has skill that can easily play in a top six and likely in a top line role as well, albeit less likely in a role wherein he has to carry the offensive load single-handedly. He combines skill, energy and power to force countless errors from his opponents and is always ready to capitalize on those errors, making clear that his disruptiveness is intentional and planned out.”
From Sports Illustrated:
“Everything you need to know about Beniers can be distilled from his usage at the World Junior Championship in Edmonton, where Team USA coach Nate Leaman counted on the pivot to take crucial defensive-zone faceoffs whilst protecting leads in the medal round. Keep in mind: Beniers was the youngest player on the roster, yet he was instrumental in the Americans winning gold.
“Mobility, playmaking and desire are among the hallmarks of his game, and he’s heady and hardworking, too. Said one scout: ‘He plays the game the right way. He plays fast, he’s on pucks, he has skill, and he can make a play.’ “
His high school coach, Dave Cannata at Milton Academy:
“Utterly responsible, all three zones. As a young kid, he was just years beyond his age in terms of responsibility, on and off the ice, every situation.”
Finally, this Friday from Robert Kron, Kraken director of amateur scouting, on what distinguished Beniers from other quality centers in the draft:
“I think what tipped the scale into his favor is unbelievable enthusiasm and work ethic. He never quits. His energy levels are very high at the beginning of the shift, or late in the shift. He plays a very strong game in all three zones. You feel that he’s got incredible offensive upside as well. He plays such a mature game, and we still believe there’s more to come.”
Fortunately, he has about three years to work on his weak 12 game. If he succeeds by then, Seahawks fans will offer him a legal beer.