Seattle's Matty Beniers has long been considered the favorite for the Calder Trophy, given to the NHL's top rookie.
After all, how many first-year players are centering the top line for a team that appears bound for the playoffs?
But there have been a few bumps in the road for Beniers, whose wild-card leading Kraken (40-24-8, 88 points) face a potential first-round Western Conference playoff preview when they travel Monday to Minnesota (42-22-9, 93 points).
Beniers snapped a 13-game goalless drought in a 7-2 victory Saturday at Nashville. That gave him 20 goals and 50 points on the season.
"That happens in hockey, it's a lot of games and you go without scoring," said Beniers, the No. 2 overall pick in the 2021 draft who made a 10-game cameo with the expansion Kraken last season after finishing his University of Michigan campaign. "Not everyone but some guys do and that's part of the game. You've just got to get through it, play your game and not think about it too much."
Beniers built up his rookie-of-the-year resume early in the season, scoring 17 goals and adding 19 assists before a blind-side hit from Vancouver's Tyler Myers in late January gave Beniers a concussion and prevented him from participating in the All-Star Game.
Beniers has produced just three goals and 11 assists in the two months since.
"Matty's a good player," Kraken coach Dave Hakstol said. "There's not a lot hidden in this league. People know he's a good two-way player for us. He's going to get a little extra attention, but he also handles it well.
"He's very aware of where he is on the ice, what's around him and he's competitive as hell. So, those are things that serve him pretty well. And he's going to face difficult and tough matchups but he's going to continue competing his way through those battles."
The Wild moved atop the Central Division with a 3-1 victory against visiting Chicago on Saturday.
Ryan Hartman scored on a breakaway with 1:11 left to break a 1-1 tie and Frederick Gaudreau added an empty-netter.
Ryan Reaves also scored and Filip Gustavsson made 22 saves for the Wild, who are 3-0-1 during a four-game point streak.
"We talked about not looking at the standings and not looking at who we're playing," Reaves said. "Just making sure we're putting our game forward."
It was another close contest for the Wild, who are 14-1-9 in games that are tied with five minutes left in regulation.
"There's no question that we feel the close games that we've been in ... should set us up well once we get to the playoffs," Wild coach Dean Evason said.
This will be the third meeting between the teams this season, though the first since Nov. 11, when Marc-Andre Fleury made 28 saves and Mats Zuccarello scored in a 1-0 Wild win in Seattle. The Kraken won 4-0 at Minnesota on Nov. 3 as Martin Jones made 22 saves and Alex Wennberg tallied twice.
--Field Level Media