With the NHL Draft fast approaching at the end of July, forward Matty Beniers will soon have a major decision to make: to stay at Michigan another year or try his hand at a professional career.
At 18 years old, Beniers would be one of the youngest players in the NHL — the average age of which is 27 years old. However, youth has never been an issue for Beniers.
When Beniers was just 17, he was named an assistant captain for the U.S. National Team Development Program, ranking second in scoring for the season and tallying 18 goals and 23 assists.
As one of the youngest players on the Wolverines roster this past season, Beniers put up 10 goals which tied for the most on the team in Michigan’s 26 games.
Most recently, he competed for the U.S. in the IIHF World Championships, playing with and against much older and larger players, some of whom were already playing professionally. While he said the speed of the game did take some adjusting, the experience built up his confidence in terms of playing at the next level.
But after a case of COVID-19 cut the Wolverines’ season short, Beniers feels he has some unfinished business in Ann Arbor.
“For me, I’m definitely leaning towards coming back,” he told reporters on Thursday. “Got a really good group coming back, a lot of good players. We’re gonna get a real run at a national title, I think, and I definitely want to win a Big Ten championship. (Defenseman Owen Power) is kind of leaning towards coming back, so that’d be fun if he came back and we got kind of the whole crew back together and gave it another go.”
Beniers, Power and forward Kent Johnson are all projected top-10 picks for the July draft and will likely have the opportunity to sign pro contracts soon after. Their draft potential has been talked about long before they stepped on the ice in Michigan sweaters and the decisions they make will have a profound impact on the Wolverines’ outlook for the upcoming season. Last year, the trio combined for 22 goals and 45 assists.
Though Beniers is leaning towards returning, there are many factors left to consider. Before making a final call, he’ll wait to see which team drafts him and what they think of his preparedness, describing it as “a family decision.” He needs to think not only about his readiness as a player but also as a person.
“If I’m ready hockey-wise and if I’m ready mentally as a person (I’ll go),” Beniers said. “It’s a big step. I’m only 18. I’d love to be in college, kind of have a college life, especially after last year, we didn’t really get the full college experience. If you’re going to leave, you’re gonna have to go live on your own or with a roommate and kind of become a pro — become an adult. If I’m ready to make that jump and I’m ready as a hockey player, then it might be the right thing. But if not, then I think it’s the right thing to come back.”
When asked about the recent changes in name, image and likeness (NIL) regulation in the NCAA, Beniers said it will have no bearings on what he decides to do. Whatever the outcome, this decision will be based on school and hockey alone.