Kraken plans to play the long game with rookie Matty Beniers

If you’re wondering why you should look to a hockey team that has lost 20 more games than it won and sits at the bottom of the Pacific Division, the answer lies in the 19-year-old rookie.

The Kraken may not have had the kind of success Seattle was hoping for in its inaugural season, but they may have just provided a blow in the form of the 175-pound Massachusetts native.

Center Matty Beniers introduced himself to the media on Monday after his first practice with the team, a day after agreeing to a three-year entry-level contract with Kraken. And the No. 2 overall selection from last year’s amateur draft made it clear he was ready to embrace hockey’s top tier.

“I’m excited to take it all and be SpongeBob,” said Benears, who played college hockey in Michigan this season. “I’ll try to get my feet under me and make as much impact as I can.”

Talented as Benniers may be, he’s still a teenager entering a grown man’s league. And just as the brass is excited to bring him up, they’re putting the kibosh into immediate hype. It’s fun to wonder what a prodigy can bring when he makes his NHL debut, coming Tuesday in Calgary, Alberta, versus The Flames. But Kraken coach Dave Huckstole made sure to emphasize that this is only the beginning of a long process.

On Monday, a reporter asked Huxtall what Benniers’ plans were for the next few games. his reaction? Rest there, friend.

“Everyone’s a little slow here, let’s just slow down. My big thing for Matt is to be able to come into our dressing room, be comfortable in that environment with my teammates, work hard every day, and the process of adjusting to this level.” Have fun,” Huckstole said. “There’s going to be a good opportunity there. He’ll have to act like anyone else for that opportunity. But before we go, let’s go.”

True enough, but you can’t blame fans for catching a glimpse of the man they’ve been hoping to become one of the game’s next superstars. The Benears are coming off a college season in which he led the Wolverines to 43 points, 20 goals to go with 23 assists. His production helped Michigan reach Frozen Four, where its title hopes were crushed in overtime by eventual champion Denver.

Beniers’ commitment to winning a national championship was impressive to Kraken’s general manager Ron Francis, who said Matty could have played this season “with one foot out the door”. Now he is trying to find his footing in the NHL.

No, it’s not a late takeover that could help take Seattle to the playoffs. The postseason isn’t happening for the struggling squad, but the Beniers signing could offer a glimmer of hope for the franchise’s future.

Look no further than Chris Pronger or Evgeny Malkin or Marcel Dion if you want to know what kind of impact the No. 2 overall pick can have. That said, Francis shares Huxtall’s position for not expecting too much from the baby right away. These final two-and-a-half weeks of the season are essentially an adaptation period to prepare for the grind of 2022-23, when Kraken hopes to become a contender.

“This is the beginning of a process for him. The player you see now will not be the player he is five months from now or two years from now,” Francis said. “It will be a process for him to grow and get better, and we are excited to help him with that development.”

Beniers said it was “ridiculous” to have people in the stands at Kraken’s practice in Northgate on Monday, something he is not used to. The truth is, he’s going to be eyeing her more than ever.

Ten games remain on Seattle’s schedule, including five at Climate Pledge Arena. It’s not a ton of time to develop for a young player, but it will offer a thumbnail of what he’s capable of.

People are excited. Maybe a little nervous too. Well, the ones whose name isn’t Matty Beniers are at least nervous.

“I don’t think I’ll have a lot of nerves,” Beniers said. “Once the game starts, like I said, it’s hockey. I’ve been doing it for the rest of my life.”

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