SEATTLE — Kraken general manager Ron Francis was known throughout his Hall of Fame career for his unrelenting center play at both ends of the ice.
And on Friday the GM selected arguably the best two-way amateur center on the planet in Matthew Beniers, 18, with the No. 2 overall pick in the NHL entry draft. Beniers, a 6-foot-1, 175-pounder from Hingham, Mass. — who goes by the nickname “Matty” — ranked third in scoring with 24 points on the powerhouse University of Michigan squad his recently-completed freshman season.
He also played for gold-medal-winning Team USA at the IIHF World Junior Championship in January and again against NHL players at the IIHF World Championship in May. The strong-skating playmaker is considered close to NHL-ready, though he has spoken about leaning toward returning to Michigan for another season depending on what the drafting team wanted.
Though the Kraken stunned a few prognosticators with some of its picks in Wednesday’s NHL expansion draft, this time around the team took the player most figured it would go with — especially after the Buffalo Sabres took Beniers’ Michigan teammate and the consensus No. 1 overall choice, defenseman Owen Power.
The stacked Michigan team had three players drafted in the top 5 — an NCAA school had never before had three in the top 10 — in Power, Beniers and his linemate, Kent Johnson, who switched from center to left wing to accommodate Beniers when playing alongside him. Johnson completed the top-5 trifecta when selected at No. 5 by the Columbus Blue Jackets.
The NHL draft typically falls between the NFL and MLB when it comes to draft prospects beginning their major pro careers. Though top NHL picks can jump straight to the big club, it often takes two or three seasons for the mostly 18-year-old prospects to make the leap.
A big reason is age, because the teenagers being selected are younger and less physically developed than football draftees in their early 20s. This past year offered additional complications in the hockey process as a number of top prospects had their playing time limited by the COVID-19 pandemic.©2021 The Seattle Times. Visit seattletimes.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.