“It’s truly an honor to join the Kraken organization, officially, and I can’t wait to get started,” Beniers said. “Although we fell short of our goal, I loved my time with Michigan and am looking forward to the next step in my journey. Being drafted last summer was surreal. I’m excited to get to Seattle.”
The addition of the team’s first-ever draft pick represents another franchise milestone in an inaugural season of firsts. Kraken GM Ron Francis has praised Beniers’ skating, playmaking skills and tenacity in the defensive zone, but the Hall of Fame player-turned-executive is even more impressed with his new player’s character. For instance, it says a lot about Beniers that he was the only non-senior to be part of Michigan’s captaincy group this season.
“We’re excited to officially welcome Matty to our organization,” said Kraken GM Ron Francis. “He capped off a productive career at Michigan with a trip to the Frozen Four and has impressed our staff over the past couple of years with his leadership and strong two-way game. We’re looking forward to working with him as he takes the next step in his development. ”
Newer or long-time hockey fans recognize the speed and skill of every player at the NHL level, plus the physical and mental grind of an 82-game schedule. When Francis says “next step in development” it is a good reminder for all observers to understand even the top amateur players require time and NHL game experience to find their highest potential.
“A lot of people in hockey have said playing [NHL] games at the end of season is beneficial [for NCAA players]”said Beniers in an exclusive interview Sunday.” You get to see where you are at and I get around the guys.
“It’s really important for me to get to know them and learn from them. I’m extremely fortunate to get to do that.”
Video: Matty Beniers Agrees to Terms
Living the Hockey Dream
For Beniers, it’s a huge moment in his hockey dream career rendering in full technicolor this week ahead: He will likely make his NHL debut, one he imagined many hundreds of winter days on a frozen pond behind his family’s house in Hingham, MA.
Beniers likely thought about scoring in the NHL a lot during the 11 years he played on teams for which his father was a coach. And, no doubt, he had the NHL in mind and psyche when he at 15 announced to mom and dad he wanted to play for the USA Hockey National Team Development Program, where he played so well as a 16-year-old that he was promoted to the U18 team by mid-season.
With two strong seasons at Michigan, which ended Thursday in a heartbreaker overtime loss to eventual champion Denver, and three international appearances (Men’s worlds, World Juniors, Olympics), Beniers’ 12-month whirlwind timeline is all impressive preparation and personal context for the two-way center to face NHL opponents in coming days.
“It was a tough decision for me,” said Beniers about taking a few days after the Frozen Four appearance to consider his future on the ice. “I love my team, I love my teammates, I love Michigan. It was not easy. I did my research and talked to a lot of people.”
Beniers is close with his parents and older siblings, Bobby and Gianna. His dad, Bob, coached him at the youth level for a decade. His mother, Christine, a Broadway actress and now an attorney, moved with Beniers when it was decided the new Kraken signee would play for the USA Hockey Team Development program.
“I think it’s a four-way tie which family member is most excited,” Beniers said, laughing. “My family would be happy with whatever decision I made and support me. There’s extreme excitement.
“They all want to get out to Seattle soon to see the city and see me play.”
Explaining Entry-Level NHL Contract
All NHL rookies younger than 25 sign an entry-level contract or ELC. The contract is a two-way contract to cover players competing at the NHL and AHL / ECHL levels. The length of the deal depends on age: three years for 18- to 21-year-olds, two years for ages 22 and 23 and one-year for a 24-year-old.
There are rules for what constitutes a season, but in Beniers case, any game he plays during the rest of the Kraken regular-season schedule will count as a season played and, in turn, means Beniers’ next two seasons will finish out his rookie contract. The Kraken will have first-right options to re-sign Beniers for his next NHL contract. Entry-level contracts can include performance bonuses, the only time a player is eligible for a contract worth bonuses until they are 35 years old.
‘Helluva Player, Better DJ’
Beniers ‘mother, Christine, moved to Ann Arbor to support her son’s aspirations while Bob Beniers, a sales rep, stayed home in Hingham with Beniers’ siblings. While Beniers improved year over year, his attorney mother working remotely, the two continued sharing a love of music that started with Christine’s first career as a Broadway actress.
Christine Beniers directed school musicals when Matty, older siblings Bobby and Gianna were growing up. In a music town like Seattle, Kraken fans will be happy to know Beniers appeared in two musicals, “Jersey Boys” and “The Sound of Music,” in younger days.
When Beniers first joined the Team USA Development Program, his coaches asked all new players to tell teammates an interesting fact about themselves, Beniers was unafraid to reveal he can sing. The coaches, of course, asked Beniers to sing a little something for the group. Beniers picked “Can’t Take My Eyes Off You” by Frankie Valli from “Jersey Boys.”
At the Winter Olympics in Beijing, Beniers was the youngest player on a squad with 15 NCAA players and 10 older teammates, the latter with NHL and European pro leagues experience. Not only did Beniers earn the most ice time among all USA forwards, it was Beniers who put together a playlist of songs that connected with all teammates and even the coaching staff headed by former New York Rangers and Boston University coach David Quinn.
“I think everyone kind of likes the old tunes,” Beniers told Associated Press reporter Stephen Whyno. “It’s a good common ground because a lot of the older guys don’t like the hard rap and the younger guys usually like the older music, so it’s good.”
The songs included “Build Me Up Buttercup” by the Foundations, “Rich Girl” by Hall and Oates, “Carry on Wayward Son” by Kansas and “Three Little Birds” by Bob Marley and the Wailers. Beniers’ favorite? The Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell duet, “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough.”
“It’s the best playlist I’ve heard in hockey,” said Quinn, 55. “I told Matty, ‘You’re a hell of a player, but you’re a better DJ.’ ”
The Learning Curve
Beniers’ multiple playing experiences over the last 12 months have proven more than once he is a fast learner who adjusts to his teammates and competition surrounding him. It will be a challenge again at the NHL level, no matter what draft slot a young prospect starts from.
On draft day, Ron Francis talked about how Matty is an intelligent young man committed to his studies, no surprise with both parents graduates of Cornell University (his father played football at the Ivy League school).
“Matty is a winner and a great character-guy with a great skill asset,” Francis said. “We think he has a huge upside. There are not many times when you interview a player and he is majoring in pre-med [freshman year]. He’s obviously a bright kid. ”
Beniers’ college coach, Mel Pearson, saw growth in his alternate captain’s game across the board during the Kraken center’s two seasons with the Wolverines, perhaps most importantly and impressively when Beniers was struggling to make the scoresheet early this season. Francis, too, talks frequently about how a player reacts when things aren’t going his way as the true measure of character.
Pearson recalled how “he wasn’t the same Matty Beniers” with the coach suggesting, “be true to yourself and have fun” and the goals and assists will come. Pearson supplied an article about Toronto star forward Mitch Marner’s confidence level after a subpar playoffs performance last season and one assist in the first seven games of the 2021-22 season (Marner currently has 31 goals and 59 assists in 63 games).
“I’m not a guy who focuses on the outside pressure as much as my personal expectations,” said Beniers to reporter Ryan Kennedy of The Hockey News. “I want to help the team, I want to be a go-to guy who scores goals and makes plays and I wasn’t doing my part.
“I was probably being a little too hard on myself. Seeing the article and talking to my parents, I took a step back and had fun playing hockey, not worrying about anything else. That was my change in thought.”
Beniers led Michigan is scoring this season (20 goals, 23 assists in 37 games) on a team with seven first-round draft choices and 13 NHL draftees overall.
“He’s always been a mature kid, but he’s taken another step,” Pearson said. “You’re going to struggle wherever you are, it’s just about embracing it. You have to struggle to grow. He hung in there, worked hard and did the other things to help our team win. Just a phenomenal young man.”