Despite what the draft board says, it’s Matty Beniers. He never felt like a Matthew or a Matt, so Matty it is.
It’s better that way, though, isn’t it? If you’re going to be Seattle’s next sports superstar, it’s nice to have a distinct first name.
No, this column isn’t saying Beniers is a lock to become a perennial All-Star or Hart Trophy candidate. He’s 18, could use another 20 pounds of muscle and might not even play in the NHL next year.
But with all the Kraken craze pervading Seattle, why not wonder just how spectacular this kid could be? Why not imagine a day when Matty Mania sweeps the city?
The Kraken drafted the left-handed center with the No. 2 overall pick in the NHL entry draft Friday. The pick came after Beniers dominated the NCAA at Michigan in a COVID-19-shortened season.
His Wolverines teammate, Owen Power, was selected first overall, but there were a few mock drafts that had Beniers in that top spot. Stick the Space Needle on top of the Columbia Center, and you’ll get a glimpse of his ceiling.
“With the way he competes each and every day, the way he skates, his skill set, we just thought he was the perfect fit to start our franchise,” Kraken general manager Ron Francis said. “We think he’s got a huge upside, and we’re working to help him hopefully attain that in the next few years.”
Here’s what to know about Matty on the ice: He scored 24 points in 24 games last season for Michigan — ranked eighth in the country — and was tied for first on the team in goals. He won a gold medal with Team USA at the IIHF World Junior Championship this year.
He’s a speedy skater who can crunch you with a check, but is perhaps more acclaimed for his instincts and creativity. And given that he is about as adept defensively as he is offensively, he could end up being hockey’s version of the Clippers’ Kawhi Leonard.
Here’s what to know about Matty off the ice: He is premed at Michigan and has always been fascinated with science. His latest interest is dermatology, and he is enamored by the show Dr. Pimple Popper. Francis praised his character and strong family background. And though he likes the Seahawks, they pale compared with the team in his home state of Massachusetts.
“I’m obviously a die-hard Patriots fan, and you kind of gave us that Super Bowl,” Beniers quipped Friday while talking about what he knew about Seattle. “But, no, I know it’s a great city. A lot of people have said such great things about it. It’s a beautiful city.”
How much time Beniers will be spending in this city next season is to be determined. He has contemplated returning to college, which is a common practice among NHL draftees. They’re not always pro ready — not even the top picks. Putting on pounds and notching more experience might be formula for his hockey future.
Asked Friday about the possibility of his draft pick jumping straight to the NHL, Francis said he and Beniers would have a “discussion.” He acknowledged the sizable difference in play quality between the two levels, and that he doesn’t want to rush anybody. But he added that Beniers has the potential to make the opening-day lineup if he bolts for the pros.
Would that mean instant production if he comes straight up? Not necessarily. But you can expect to see Seattle brimming with Beniers jerseys if he does.
This town isn’t new to high-profile draft picks. Ken Griffey Jr. and Alex Rodriguez are two who come to mind. But where Beniers differs from those Mariners selections is that he is the first pick in the franchise’s history.
On Friday, a scribe asked him about that honor.
“There are so many words I could use to describe it. Surreal. It’s honestly amazing. I could not be happier. I’m honestly at a loss for words just thinking about what just happened,” Beniers said. “Being drafted in the first place, going second overall and going to a new expansion team. I’m so unbelievably excited and thankful for everything.”
You never know how an 18-year-old might change over the years, but right now Beniers seems about as affable and respectful as they come. Confident but not conceited. Gracious as he is gifted.
He’s excited to get his chance. And with a name like Matty, may soon be hearing chants.