Matthew Beniers is a Hingham, Massachusetts native. He was born in 2002, and that might make more than a few feel old. He’s a 6-1, 175 center who has started the college hockey season on fire with the Michigan Wolverines.
At the World Junior Championship evaluation camp, Beniers made sure to show what he can do. You can tell he wants to make the team, but as a Freshman, it might be tough for Michigan to let him go, his Michigan teammate Owen Power, who could go at the top of the 2021 NHL Draft, was denied playing for Team Canada for those reasons, and the 51 days he would be away from classes.
“I think it’s a super cool experience to be a part of,” said Beniers. “It’s a lot of fun playing with great players. Especially during COVID-19, playing games is special. I really thank USA Hockey for putting this together for us. It’s great to be out on the ice and show what we can do.”
In the All-American Prospects game, they played him at second-line left-wing. One thing you instantly notice about him is he can play at speed, and he’s defensively responsible. He was solid on the penalty kill, and as time goes on, he could turn that defense into offense.
Last year with the NTDP, he was second in scoring with 41 points in 44 games. I saw him play in person last year three times, and he was noticeable. He was playing top-line minutes in that one, but it was early in the season, and they were testing him there. He originally committed to Harvard University but de-committed in August when it seemed like that school was iffy about playing hockey in 2021. His current Michigan teammate, Thomas Bordeleau, also a center, drafted by the San Jose Sharks in the 2020 NHL Draft, he was the best center and the top scorer on that squad.
“It’s been fun the first few months, those guys (his teammates) are great players and great people, It’s been fun to get to know them. When you play with high-caliber players you go out there and they’re pushing you every day to get better. Surrounding yourself with those players makes you that much better at the next level.”
Michigan is loaded this year, and Berniers is more than carrying his weight. In his first four games, the talented pivot has two goals and five points. He’s playing fourth-line center, as a true freshman, so there’s no shame there. Players are much older and stronger, and he’s more than holding his own.
Beniers is an elite playmaker, and that’s been on display for all of Michigan to see, but his work on the penalty kill is being seen because they trust him to kill penalties. This is a big deal for a freshman, and he’s handling it like a pro. He’s looking like a veteran there.
As far as making the roster for Team USA? He would be the only 2021 Draft Pick to play for them, and I think he has a better than 50% chance, I think the other hurdles I mentioned could hold him back more than being edged out by the competition.
It will be interesting to see how this breaks. The U.S. has a strong team heading into the 2021 World Junior Championship, no matter how you slice it. The competition will be stiff, they’re not the only good team, and I’ll get into that down the road.