Getting drafted into the NHL is pressure enough, but imagine being in the history books before you even played a game. That's the reality for University of Michigan center Matty Beniers, who became the first-ever draft selection in Seattle history when the expansion Kraken took the two-way pivot second overall in 2021.
After an excellent freshman campaign with the Wolverines, expectations surrounding Beniers were high and while he did get some points early on, his offensive output just wasn't up to his own lofty standard.
"He struggled out of the gate in terms of numbers and I think that was weighing on him; he wasn't the same Matty Beniers," said coach Mel Pearson. "Usually I tell people that when he walks in the door he makes us a better team just on his attitude and outgoing personality - he's always positive. But a couple weeks ago you could tell he wasn't the same."
To help get Beniers back on track, Pearson had a message: Just get back to who you are, be true to yourself and have fun. He also shared an article with the sophomore about Toronto Maple Leafs star Mitch Marner, who started this season with an uncharacteristic one assist in seven games on the heels of a lackluster playoffs against Montreal last season. Marner's solution was to cut out social media and get back to having fun and now the right winger is close to a point per game in Toronto.
"It was good seeing him talk about that," Beniers said. "For me the puck just wasn't going in the net - everybody has it. I'm not a guy who focuses on the outside pressure as much as my personal expectations: I want to help the team, I want to be a go-to guy who scores goals and makes plays and I wasn't doing my part. I was probably being a little too hard on myself. Seeing the article and talking to my parents, I took a step back and had fun playing hockey, not worrying about anything else. That was my change in thought and the last couple of games have been a lot of fun."
Boy, have they. Beniers went on a run that saw him tally two goals per game in three straight wins, including a sweep of archrival Michigan State and the first of two wins in a sweep over Penn State (he had one goal in the second contest). The Wolverines are now the top-ranked team in the nation and sporting a 10-2 record.
Meanwhile, Beniers has climbed up to third in team scoring behind defenseman Owen Power (who went to Buffalo with the first overall pick in 2021) and linemate Kent Johnson, the Columbus Blue Jackets first-rounder.
"He's always been a mature kid, but he's taken another step," Pearson said. "You're going to struggle wherever you are, it's just about embracing it. You have to struggle to grow. He hung in there, worked hard and did the other things to help our team win. Just a phenomenal young man."
Beniers, who wears an 'A' for the Wolverines, has made sure to learn from all the leaders he has played with in the past. When he was at the NTDP, his captain was future University of North Dakota star defenseman Jake Sanderson (the Ottawa Senators first-rounder). When Beniers got a chance to play for Team USA at the World Championship, it was NHLers such as Justin Abdelkader and Brian Boyle.
Even with the slump busted, Beniers is going to have a lot of eyes on him for the rest of the season thanks to his high draft status and early position as Seattle's top prospect. And while he plays far away from Climate Pledge Arena right now, Beniers has been keeping tabs on the team that drafted him.
"My roommates and I watch on TV a lot - like, a lot," Beniers said. "It's pretty cool to see how they're doing. They haven't had the best start, but it's a long season."
Wolverines fans are hoping their campaign is long, too - as in, all the way to the national championship. First Beniers will have a chance to win back-to-back gold medals at the world juniors in Edmonton, but who says he can't do both?