Any team looking for a quality two-way centre with high upside (hint: it’s all 32 of ‘em, folks) would be lucky to add a player like Matthew Beniers.
The former U.S. National Team Development Program product recently completed his first year of university and now looks to the next phase of his playing career.
Team: University of Michigan
Age: 18 (Nov. 5, 2002)
From: Hingham, Mass.
Weight: 175 pounds
Considered one of the more well-rounded players in the 2021 draft class, Beniers finished the year ranked by Central Scouting as the No. 6 skater in North America.
“He’s been a tremendous all-around player,” Michigan Wolverines head coach Mel Pearson said of Beniers. “You trust him as a coach to play in any situation. You know he’s going to play on the right side of the puck and then he’s got the skill offensively, he can play on the offensive side. Very fortunate to have him here. He’s a lot of fun to coach.”
Iron sharpens iron
Beniers had initially planned on attending Harvard University near his hometown in Massachusetts, however with the school’s 2020-21 season cancelled due to COVID-19 he instead decided to join fellow top prospects Owen Power and Kent Johnson in the impressive Michigan program.
“I didn’t really know how great it would be until I got here,” Beniers said after joining his new teammates. “Every day we’re pushing each other. And those two (Power and Johnson) they obviously also love hockey, and it’s what they want to do with the rest of their life. So, it’s kind of cool being around guys that just love the game and want to get better every day. It pushes me, I push them and so I think it will be a lot of benefit from playing together.”
Beniers ended up with 24 points (10 goals, 14 assists) in 24 games, which is roughly on par with his output during his time in the USNTDP. He may not project as a point-per-game player in the NHL, but his 200-foot game and intangibles are what sets him apart from many of his peers.
“It kind of seems like the guy doesn't run out of energy,” Michigan goalie Strauss Mann told Buffalo News. “He's just bopping around the ice, out-skating everyone. He'll lead a rush and then be the first guy back on the backcheck. Just kind of a complete player that energizes your team and his linemates and goes to the net really hard, does the little things well. He's a guy that everyone would want on their team.”
Had solid debut at worlds
After starring on Team USA at the most recent world juniors, Beniers earned the opportunity to wear the stars and stripes alongside many NHLers at the 2021 IIHF Men's World Championship earlier this year.
The 18-year-old didn’t look out of place as he suited up for six games and even scored a goal in a game against Latvia on an impressive individual effort.
— USA Hockey (@usahockey) May 27, 2021
“He's a high-character kid at such a young age,” Team USA forward Brian Boyle said of Beniers. “He puts the work in and wants to get better.”
Unfortunately for Beniers, his tournament was cut short due to a lower-body injury he sustained sliding awkwardly feet first into the end boards. Although the injury required roughly one month of recovery it is not expected to impact his preparation for USA Hockey’s summer showcase, which will subsequently help him prepare for his first NHL training camp.
What do the experts say?
Sam Cosentino: “Mentorship from playing for the USA in the worlds will be valuable for a player expected to wear a letter when he becomes an established NHLer. Work ethic, attention to detail and reliability make him a sure bet.”
Adam Kimelman of NHL.com: “He is an outstanding skater who is as relentless on the forecheck as he is on the backcheck. He was a key piece for the United States winning the 2021 IIHF World Junior Championship as the youngest player on the roster and hasn't looked out of place playing with and against NHL players with the U.S. at the 2021 IIHF World Championship despite a lower-body injury sustained against Slovakia in the quarterfinals Thursday.”
Mike G. Morreale of NHL.com: “He scored 24 points (10 goals, 14 assists) in 24 games in his first college season and led first-time NHL Draft-eligible NCAA players in goals, goals per game (0.42) and shots on goal per game (2.38). He stood out as the second-line centre for the U.S. at the WJC, scoring three points (one goal, two assists), killing penalties and averaging 17:05 of ice time in seven games.”