SEATTLE — The cameo Matty Beniers made last year during the disappointing debut season of the Seattle Kraken provided an optimistic glimmer of what a full season with the young center on the ice could mean for the young franchise.
Being in the conversation for the Calder Trophy as top rookie? That was expected. Helping lead the Kraken to a playoff berth in Year 2? That was a surprise.
“What he brings to the team every single night is unique, is special. He works really hard. He does the right thing every single night and that’s why he’s so consistent in his game,” Seattle teammate Yanni Gourde said. “And consistency is tough. I think it’s the toughest part, especially as a rookie coming through in your first year.”
Beniers has turned out to be one of the missing pieces for Seattle and its hungry fans, who can now look forward to playoff hockey. Seattle will close out the regular season Thursday night against Vegas and then open its first postseason, rekindling memories and hopes of a Stanley Cup from a century ago.
Going into the regular-season finale, Beniers leads all rookies in goals (24) and points (57) and is second in assists. He very well could become the first player in Seattle history honored with a major NHL award as the favorite for the Calder.
The hopes were high when Beniers arrived for training camp last September and he’s met or exceeded seemingly all of them.
“I don’t really know what the expectations were, honestly, I just was worried about my expectations and what I wanted to do and that was to help my team make the playoffs. That was kind of it for me,” Beniers said. “I’m glad I’m having some individual success. That always is nice but it doesn’t really matter.”
If that sounds a little reserved, it fits Beniers. He won’t turn 21 until after next season has started and if anyone needed a reminder that he is still a kid, he dressed up as the Easter bunny last weekend. His celebrations after scoring this season have mostly been low-key. He seems more interested in setting up a teammate with an assist.
But this season has reinforced the importance of Beniers as a cornerstone for the Kraken.
Beniers was on pace for 70 points and 30 goals at the midway mark of the season. He missed a couple of weeks after a hit from Vancouver’s Tyler Myers in late January, including his first All-Star Game appearance.
Beniers, at 6-2 and 180 pounds, has seen teams be more physical with him in the second half of the season.
“I’m not the most beefy guy,” Beniers said. “Just trying to be physical, hit me, get under my skin. But that’s hockey. You’re going to run into that wherever you go.”
As he showed in the midst of Seattle’s stretch run to its playoff berth, Beniers is willing to throw his body around. In a 5-2 win over Vancouver on April 4, Beniers laid a check on Vancouver’s Kyle Burroughs to free a puck and found Jordan Eberle for a tiebreaking goal. A few minutes later, Beniers raced back to break up a shorthanded attempt and added an empty-net goal on a shot that was nearly the length of the ice.
“His 200-hundred-foot play is exceptional for such a young guy,” Eberle said. “I know he wants to be a 200-foot player and that’s not things you hear really too much from a 20-year-old centerman, so he’s wise beyond his years.”
Seattle will need more of that from Beniers in the postseason if the Kraken want want to stick around a while. Of course, the strength of Seattle’s season has been the contributions from throughout the lineup to complement career seasons from the likes of Jared McCann, Brandon Tanev, Vince Dunn and Beniers.
“It’s been spread out throughout the year,” coach Dave Hakstol said. “We’ve got pretty good confidence throughout the lineup. I think guys expect that they can go out and score.”