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2021 NHL Draft: Matthew Beniers is a do-it-all center

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Another University of Michigan player will likely go top-5 in July.

Russia v United States: Preliminary Round Group B - 2021 IIHF World Junior Championship Photo by Codie McLachlan/Getty Images

The 2021 NHL Draft holds no superstars. It has been said a million times leading up to the event on July 23, but considering the lack of someone at the top and the influence of having no true full seasons, because, you know, a global pandemic, there are a lot of possible prospects that will be selected in the first five picks.

No one even knows who will go first! It’s madness, just complete guesswork of what these teams are thinking and who they want to use their pick that they suffered a miserable 56 games in the regular season for. One of those names can certainly be University of Michigan center Matthew Beniers.

Beniers has been heralded as the most complete forward of this draft. A master of none but an extremely capable player in all aspects of the game, he has the destiny of being a full-time NHL player that just keeps his team in the game when he’s on the ice. He certainly did that for the Wolverines this season.

If you don’t watch college hockey — because who really has the time to invest in that heavily — you might have caught Beniers representing his country at the 2021 World Junior Championships this January on a very deep United States squad. He only scored three points through the seven contests, but that led him to being selected for the World Championships roster just last month — you know, the one that has current NHL players playing in it.

Beniers is good, but don’t take it from some lowly Minnesota Wild blogger. Listen to some smart people.

Pre-Draft Rankings

Ranked #6 by NHL Central Scouting (NA Skaters)

Ranked #1 by Elite Prospects

Ranked #1 by Dobber Prospects

Ranked #2 by Sportsnet

Ranked #5 by The Athletic/Corey Pronman

What Scouts Are Saying

Beniers is the top center prospect in this draft. He has a quality NHL-caliber skill set but not a lot jumps off the page. He is a top prospect because he is an elite competitor and makes the most of his toolkit every game. I’ve seen him play nearly a hundred games over the last three years between the U.S. NTDP, college and international competitions, and I can count on one hand the times he’s never made an impact on a game. His work ethic shows through how hard he forechecks and backchecks, how every play is made with speed, how he wins a ton of battles, and how fearless he is getting to the high-traffic areas. Beniers wills his way to puck possession and scoring chances, while also able to set up a lot of plays. In a sentence, Beniers projects as a top-two line center, a No. 2 on a Stanley Cup contender or a low-end No. 1, who can score at a reasonable rate for those roles and provide high-end value off the puck.

-Corey Pronman, The Athletic

Matthew Beniers is a very intriguing prospect. In my views, I have failed to find a fault in his game. While a lot of scouts and analysts have claimed that Beniers doesn’t have flash to his game, I would argue that he doesn’t need flash. If you are capable of mastering the fundamentals, flash is not necessary. It’s a nice to have. Plus, I would argue that mastering the fundamentals is flash.

Beniers is a smart hockey player. That statement is overused, but he does everything that you want him to do and knows exactly what to do to draw attackers to him and open up lanes for himself. Beniers always manages to get to the net and knows exactly what it takes to do so no matter what situation he is in.

Speaking of drawing attackers to him, Beniers does this with ease. If he is rushing up the right side of the ice and the attacker is to his left, he will opt to position the puck to his left. This draws the attacker in. When the attacker is approaching Beniers, he will shift the puck to his right and skate around the attacker. This allows him to bring the attacker to him and open up a clear path to the net. In the below clip, you can check out an example where Beniers was able to draw an attacker in to create an opportunity to open up a lane to allow him to complete a zone exit pass to his winger.

-Smaht Scouting

The most complete forward in the 2021 NHL Draft, Beniers has been a monster with the Michigan Wolverines. He affects the game in so many ways from scoring at an impressive rate to turning play around in his own zone. Benier is an incredibly intelligent and cerebral player who attacks the opponents at their weaknesses. He has a bit of a wonky stride when he is really digging in but his mobility is hardly a concern. He beats defenders to the outside with his speed and has the skill to cut across their faces with excellent hands. He has a nice snap shot and his passing is precise. One of the most attractive things about Beniers is that he truly doesn’t have a glaring weakness in his game. His understanding of how to play whatever role asked of him is what makes Beniers the player he is. Whether he was playing at the World Juniors and providing an element of energy and pace to the game or at the University of Michigan where he has been borderline dominant in all facets of the game at times, the young American is just good at hockey. That sounds like a bit of a bland and general statement but there is simply no other way to describe Beniers game. The American center is not only the safe pick at #1, he’s probably the right one.

-Tony Ferrari, Dobber Prospects

Would He Fit In With The Wild?

Interpreting what every scout loves about Beniers — that he is just a complete center that doesn’t have any horrible flaws but is just a solid player — every single team could use a center like that. Even the deepest of lineups with All-Stars on their top line would like someone to provide some offensive punch and not worry about giving up an abnormal amount of chances in their own end.

With that logic, Beniers would certainly find a role on the Wild and would theoretically get an opportunity right away to join Marco Rossi as rookie centers on next season’s roster.

But...

Could The Wild Get Him?

Not at all. Beniers is too good and he most likely will be either the first or second forward taken in this draft, and even has a chance to be the first overall selection. Again, the Wild have the 21st and 25th overall picks in this draft, and aren’t really going to be trying to trade off a bunch of capable players to get a top-10 pick. It’s just not there yet for them, so let’s enjoy Beniers if he doesn’t go to a team in the Central Division.

A Minnesota Relation

In the history of the Minnesota Wild, they haven’t really had any dynamic forwards. A franchise obsessed with defensive reliability has really struggled with getting that top talent that can change games by themselves. But, we’ll really try to find a comparison that makes some sense.

Comparisons don’t mean that the player will reach that same level of production, success, or longevity of that player, but saying that Beniers has a very similar vibe to Mikael Granlund. Someone that can play in both ends and can lead their team in scoring (like Granlund did during the 2016-17 season).

2021 NHL Draft Board

  1. Owen Power — D, University of Michigan (NCAA)
  2. Matthew Beniers — C, University of Michigan (NCAA)