Top Kraken draft pick Matty Beniers: ready for the big stage again?

United States v Finland: Semifinals - 2021 IIHF World Junior Championship

EDMONTON, AB - JANUARY 04: Matthew Beniers #10 of the United States skates against Mikko Petman #23 of Finland during the 2021 IIHF World Junior Championship semifinals at Rogers Place on January 4, 2021 in Edmonton, Canada. (Photo by Codie McLachlan/Getty Images)Photo: Getty Images

The next step in a young hockey player’s life represents the battle for a gold medal on one of hockey’s biggest international stages.

Matty Beniers, the first selection in Seattle Kraken history at the 2021 NHL Entry Draft at second overall, is one step away from renewing his trip to the United States National Junior Team, set to attend selection camp Dec. 13-15 in Plymouth, Mich. at USA Hockey Arena.

The alternate captain of the Michigan Wolverines program, one of six possible returners from last season's gold medal squad, is aiming to make his second straight appearance in the IIHF World Junior Championship, the annual tournament showcasing the top under-20 year old players across the world – many with NHL prospect connections.

Edmonton and Red Deer, Alberta will host the tournament this year, Dec. 26 through January 5.

Beniers is enjoying a terrific season at Michigan, a perennial NCAA men’s hockey power ranked third in the USCHO Division-I poll with a 12-4 record. The sophomore center is tied for fifth in the nation with 11 goals, also racking up 19 points in 16 games.

2021 NHL Draft - Round One

SECAUCUS, NEW JERSEY - JULY 23: With the second pick in the 2021 NHL Entry Draft, the Seattle Kraken select Mathews Beniers during the first round of the 2021 NHL Entry Draft at the NHL Network studios on July 23, 2021 in Secaucus, New Jersey. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)Photo: Getty Images

He elected to return to school in August, and Kraken general manager Ron Francis that month said “going back for an extra year, you can keep building confidence.” NCAA guidelines dictate that he cannot sign an NHL contract until he leaves school, and the Kraken maintain his signing rights throughout his NCAA career.

This season, he is the sole underclassman to wear a letter on his jersey with Michigan this season and is vying for his third international tournament stop in two years – he also suited up in six games with Team USA at the 2021 IIHF World Championship, where he competed alongside Kraken forward Colin Blackwell, with and against established NHL talent.

“I think I’m just kind of a guy to lead by example a lot of the time,” said Beniers earlier this month after he was named back-to-back Big Ten conference first star honors. “At the men’s worlds, learning from guys like (Justin) Abdelkader and (Brian) Boyle, guys who bring a team together – being a young guy on that team, I try to do that a lot with the young guys too.”

Team USA, vying for back-to-back gold medals at the tournament, defeated Canada 2-0 in last year’s championship game. Beniers, a two-way center with three points and +3 in seven tournament games, competed with fellow teammates such as Trevor Zegras (Anaheim), Arthur Kaliyev (Los Angeles), Cole Caufield (Montreal) and goaltender Spencer Knight (Florida), all who have made their NHL debut.

Beniers will be one of six first round picks from last year’s NHL Entry Draft in Team USA’s camp, joining first overall selection, Michigan teammate, and defenseman Owen Power.

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