'Beniers Watch' officially on; ex-Wolverine picks up first NHL assist in Kraken debut

Geoff Baker
The Seattle Times

Calgary, Alberta — What little history the Kraken have will show that Matty Beniers took the ice for his very first NHL shift just 21 seconds into Tuesday night’s debut game.

More importantly, it will be noted that just under 14 minutes later, the team’s No. 2 overall pick from the University of Michigan in last summer’s entry draft recorded his first-ever NHL point.

Beniers gaining the primary assist on Ryan Donato’s opening goal ultimately wasn’t enough in what became a 5-3 loss to the Calgary Flames, but the Kraken hope it’s a demarcation point of sorts between where they are and what they aspire to be.

Ex-Wolverine Matty Beniers had an assist in his first NHL game with the Kraken on Tuesday night in Calgary.

The Kraken appeared primed for their first-ever victory over the Pacific Division leaders in their fourth and final crack at them, taking a two-goal lead into the final frame. They’d gotten help from a Victor Rask goal early in the second period that looked as if it might stand up the rest of the way, especially when Adam Larsson scored late in the frame to give the visitors a two-goal lead.

But it’s been a difficult Kraken season for a reason.

They got an early power-play chance in the third, deploying Beniers on the primary unit. But he was out there only 37 seconds before Vince Dunn took an elbowing call and then Yanni Gourde a tripping penalty right after to leave the Kraken down a man.

Michigan's Matt Beniers patterned two-way game after Red Wings' Pavel Datsyuk

Beniers managed to draw a penalty when Mangiapane kneed him with 3:38 to play. He even got a one-timed slapper off on the ensuing power play, but Dan Vladar – who’d replaced Jacob Markstrom to start the third – got in front of the shot.

Matthew Tkachuk then scored his second goal of the night into an empty net with Driedger pulled to close things out.

Beniers was meant to be the Kraken’s future from the moment he was picked No. 2 overall last July in the franchise’s very first draft selection. But his NHL arrival a full college season later has taken on added urgency with the Kraken’s on-ice performance coming nowhere close to the more competitive team expected when last year’s draft took place.

Struggling teams throughout the NHL love parading top prospects around this time of year, offering fans the promise of more than the season they’ve been given to-date. The Buffalo Sabres did the same Tuesday night with No. 1 overall pick Owen Power while No. 5 selection Kent Johnson is expected to debut for the Columbus Blue Jackets on Wednesday.

Power and Johnson teamed with Beniers at Michigan until the Wolverines were ousted in the Frozen Four national semifinal last Thursday by eventual champion Denver.

From there, “Beniers Watch” was officially on, continued through his signing on Sunday, his first Kraken practice Monday and then Tuesday night’s debut. As is traditional for NHL rookies playing their first game, a helmetless Beniers took the ice alone for a solo lap with his teammates holding back in the tunnel.

His first shift, a 41-second affair, was relatively uneventful as were the three others that followed as Beniers acclimated to NHL play. But by the time he hopped back on the ice at the 13:44 mark of the opening period, he seemed more into the play and conscious of the pace.

The Seattle Kraken agreed to terms with Michigan Wolverines top prospect Matty Beniers.

Some nice work by Vince Dunn in behind the Calgary net saw him dish the puck back to Beniers atop the left faceoff circle. Beniers made as if he was about to shoot, then slid the puck cross ice to Donato for a one-timed slap-shot goal from the opposing circle.

It wasn’t an overly complicated-looking play. Just the kind of heads-up decision the Kraken were hoping they would see plenty of from a guy they hope can become a featured centerman. Beniers and Donato both work out in the same Boston gym every summer and could be doing far more around each other in seasons to come than merely lifting weights in the same room.

Donato now has a career high 15 goals as it appears he may finally have found a home with the Kraken after bouncing around Boston, Minnesota and San Jose in recent seasons. It’s no coincidence the Kraken started Beniers off on a line with a guy he’s familiar with in Donato, with veteran leader Jordan Eberle paired on the opposite wing.

Eberle nearly had a goal as well midway through the second period, redirecting a puck off the crossbar after Beniers’ line had maintained extended pressure in Calgary’s end. But it just wasn’t meant to be the Kraken’s night. When the final horn sounded, they’d have to settle for a positive start by Beniers as a rare bit of good news as their frustrating first season continues to wind slowly down.