Kraken rookie center Matty Beniers will likely enjoy having the extra day off between Games 2 and 3 of the Western Conference semi-final against the Dallas Stars. It’s always a long grind for first year players in the NHL, adjusting to an 82 game schedule and then if they’re lucky, the physical and mental game of attrition that is the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Beniers has been getting banged around this postseason, no surprise for a kid playing top line minutes in the 2nd round of the chase for the chalice. On Thursday night in Game-2 he was smashed pretty good and given the business along the boards by Stars defenseman Jani Hakanpää.
Obviously the schedule and the physical abuse can be draining.
“I believe he’s had some dips in terms of energy; he’s really managed them well, even when he’s come to those dips,” Kraken head coach Dave Hakstol said in Dallas. “Probably first and foremost he’s a smart guy. He knows his body, he knows how he’s feeling. He’s young in this league, but he’s shown the maturity to really manage those spots. We’ve seen him bounce back from those really quickly. At this point in time he’s got great energy levels, he’s been as good as he’s been throughout the year.”
Beniers has just one goal for the Kraken in the postseason, coming in Game-3 at Climate Pledge Arena against the Colorado Avalanche in a 6-4 loss on April 22nd. It’s not for a lack of trying or involvement. He picked up his lone assist of the playoffs in Game-1 in Dallas and rang a shot off the post from the slot in the 3rd period that would have put that game out of reach. The Kraken went on to win in overtime 5-4.
“It’s definitely tough, a lot of games,” Beniers said before Game-2 in Dallas, “but just like the regular season you get used to it, get used to the grind, get used to playing every day, during the year and now you’ve got to do it while in the playoffs. The games are definitely more intense, more physical, and harder, but like everything you get used to it and you get in a rhythm.”
Given the balanced scoring that continues to produce for the Kraken, the lack of personal statistics isn’t necessarily a bad thing. If his “1st line” is drawing a little bit of extra attention, it allows more room to score for lines 2, 3, and 4.
Given the depth, and for that exact reason, Hakstol is not a fan of really numbering his lines, although when Jared McCann is healthy, there’s no doubt he, Beniers, and Jordan Eberle are the Kraken’s top unit.
McCann’s been gone since Game-4 of the Colorado series following a late hit from Avalanche defenseman Cale Makar. “Canner” doesn’t appear to be returning anytime soon.
Kraken Award Season
Beniers is the favorite to win the Calder Trophy as the NHL rookie-of-the-year. He was named a finalist on Wednesday along with goalie Stuart Skinner of the Edmonton Oilers and defenseman Owen Power of the Buffalo Sabres.
Power went 1st-overall in the 2021 NHL Draft, Beniers went second to the Kraken. The two played together in USA Hockey’s National Team Development Program, then at the University of Michigan for two seasons before turning pro.
Beniers, a 20-year-old from Hingham, Massachusetts led the NHL in rookie scoring with 57 points in 80 games while Power led rookie blueliners with 35.
Aside from the stats, given the fact Beniers centers the Kraken’s top line, has taken on major power play responsibilities and only committed one minor penalty over the course of the entire regular season, it would be somewhat shocking if he didn’t win the rookie hardware.
Goalie wins are rare. Only two netminders have won the award in the new millennium, the latest being Steve Mason of the Columbus Blue Jackets in 2009. His first year numbers were far superior to Skinner’s.
Given his nearly 20-minutes of ice time every night, his penalty minute total of two, and his overall effectiveness, there was some chatter that Beniers might deserve a nod as a finalist for the Lady Byng Trophy, given “to the player adjudged to have exhibited the best type of sportsmanship and gentlemanly conduct combined with a high standard of playing ability.”
It’s tough to give this award to a rookie. Learning the ropes, finding their way around the league, it’s likely not a coincidence that first year players are potentially less physical than they might be as their careers develop. Beniers is still filling out his 6-foot-2 frame, presently paying at 175-pounds. We’ll get a better idea of just how congenial he is in season two.
The finalists were deserving and include veteran stalwart Anze Kopitar of the Los Angeles Kings, star center Jack Hughes of the New Jersey Devils and center Brayden Point of the Tampa Bay Lightning. All three are just as “gentlemanly” as Beniers and more complete players at this point in time.
While individual awards are nice, they’re presently the furthest thing from the Kraken rookie center’s mind. His focus is Lord Stanley’s Cup. How he survives and whether or not he flourishes in these playoff battles will be an important factor to watch as Seattle’s 2023 playoffs unfold.