The Seattle Kraken came at the Pittsburgh Penguins in waves the other night, and in the end it didn’t matter how many goals were called back, the good guys got the win. And as he has done in almost every game in Kraken colors, Matty Beniers found his way onto the score sheet. Notching an assist, he increased his point total on the year to 8 (in 10 games played), and sits in sole possession of the rookie scoring lead for the moment.
His production is heartening, because his performance over the final ten games of the 2021-22 season seemed too good to be true, but it appears that Beniers can consistently create offense at the pro level. And while his -8 plus/minus doesn’t look as pretty, his advanced stats suggest that he’s creating more than he’s giving away, and that’s all that should matter in a rookie campaign. But can he keep it up over the final 72 games of the season?
There are other rookies who are scoring at a similar pace, whose teams and fan bases are surely just excited about them as we are about Matty B.
A quick review of the stats for each paints a promising picture for Beniers’ shot at the trophy. Shane Pinto has an unsustainable 42% shooting accuracy. That will come down to earth, and he may have difficulty keeping up his current pace. Calen Addison, a defenseman for the Minnesota Wild, got six of his seven points in a three game span at the start of the season, and has only a single assist in his past five. Columbus Blue Jacket Kent Johnson, a good young player (and former Beniers teammate at Michigan) who has a World Juniors gold medal and World Championship silver already on his résumé, doesn’t appear to be getting the amount of power play time that Beniers sees — and if that doesn’t change, he may fall off the pace as well.
Both Johnson and Winnipeg’s Cole Perfetti are the most likely challengers for the title of top rookie in 2022-23, and Beniers will have to maintain his own rate of production if he wants to run away with the title. And while games won and standings points are the most important stats for the team, the award itself is notable. It’s harder to win than some others, and each player only gets a single shot. All-time greats like Sydney Crosby, Connor McDavid, and even Wayne Gretzky didn’t capture the Calder (99 did win Rookie of the Year in the WHA the year prior to joining the NHL).
It helps that Beniers is amongst the Kraken’s best options in key offensive situations such as power plays, 3-on-3 overtime, or when the Kraken have an empty net as they try to tie a game late. Head coach Dave Hakstol doesn’t need to force-feed minutes to the player, because he naturally fits in those roles. But given the very good chance number 10 has at being rookie of the year, I’d keep him in those spots even if he slumps at some point down the road. It’s likely to happen over an 82 game season and Beniers is a very different rookie than someone like Shane Wright.
While Wright may benefit from watching the game from the stands, or even heading down and playing more minor hockey in the OHL, Beniers is clearly at an NHL level of readiness. He’s the future of the team and finding a little personal success as the team looks to take a step forward as a group will be a net benefit to both the player and the franchise.