Welcome to Seattle, Matty Beniers.
The first day of a potential long, lasting relationship between a cornerstone forward and a young and budding franchise opened Monday morning at Kraken Community Iceplex.
Beniers, the second overall pick in the 2021 NHL Entry Draft, began his first day of practice as an NHL player with more firsts: touches with the puck, first reps wearing an NHL jersey (“BENIERS, 10” on the back), first set of fans watching him from outside the glass (capacity crowd), and first interview with the media.
The 19-year old from the Boston, Mass. suburb of Hingham, dressed in a navy blue Kraken hoodie and Michigan Wolverine colored Nike training shoes, looked down after being asked about the meaning of becoming a pro hockey player in the city of Seattle, and took a powerful sigh to collect his thoughts.
“It’s exciting, it’s new,” said Beniers, turning pro after leading the loaded Wolverines program with 43 points in 37 games, and finishing with selections to the All-Big Ten first team and West All-American first-team spots.
“It’s a new franchise as you guys know. It’s going to be a lot of fun trying to build something here – a historic program. That’s what we’re trying to do. It’s a start.”
Already spoken like somebody who has long term plans for milestones in the Emerald City.
How long those plans take to fulfill, general manager Ron Francis said will be journey and not a sprint.
“This is the start of a process for him,” said Francis. “The player you see now is not going the player he is five months from now, two years from now. This is going to be a process for him to continue to grow and get better.”
That process, Beniers said, is an acknowledgement now as professional hockey player with one big responsibility.
“Taking care of your body and making sure you’re ready to go every day,” said Beniers. “Whether it’s in the weight room or outside the rink, taking care of your stuff. You’ve got Ron, coaches, and teammates to help you out. But it’s a little bit more on your own, so you’ve got to be more responsible.”
Dave Hakstol, with 15 years of experience at North Dakota before making stops in Philadelphia and now Seattle as an NHL head coach, understands the quantum leap from the competition of college hockey to the pros. He emphasized Beniers’ resume an elite player at the college level and experience in the Olympics as textbook runway into the NHL level to ease the last three days as “hectic” for Beniers, after managing the emotional deloading from a Frozen Four defeat, then officially committing to make his jump to the NHL.
“I got home and had some tough discussions with my parents, and found this was the best decision for me,” said Beniers, deciding to turn pro over what would have been a third season at Michigan.
“I’m here and so excited to be here.”
Amidst excitement, Hakstol offered to temper immediate expectations for Beniers, with a goal to complete an effective Monday practice “with the intention of getting into the lineup tomorrow.”
The Kraken will visit the Calgary Flames on Tuesday night, 6pm PT (93.3 KJR / Kraken Audio Network) at Scotiabank Saddledome.
“I liked the way he’s handled himself short term, coming in,” said Hakstol. “He carries himself with great confidence, but a nice balance of respectfulness and humility. That will serve him well coming into our dressing room.”
Beniers skated at five-on-five drills with wingers Jordan Eberle and Ryan Donato, a longtime friend from workout sessions in the Boston area. Should the Kraken formally decide to put him into the lineup for his NHL debut on Tuesday at Calgary, Beniers will do so with a strong possibility of family in attendance.
Beniers also said other than his father, Bob, nobody in his family have yet to visit Seattle. The Kraken will return home for a Saturday, 7pm PT contest against the New Jersey Devils at Climate Pledge Arena, which potentially could be Beniers’ home debut.
“They’re really excited to get here and see it all,” said Beniers. “We’ve honestly only heard great things about the city, so I’m excited for them to be here with me.”
They won’t be the only ones. There will be fans too, waiting to watch him take the next step, and giving him one obvious reaction.
“That puts a smile on my face,” said Beniers.
KRAKEN PRACTICE LINEUP, APR. 11:
H. Fleury / Pouliot