Seattle Kraken Team Previewby Jack Gaffney October 12, 2021 0 comments
There are new kids on the block this NHL Season, and their name is the Seattle Kraken. The Pacific Northwest’s newest franchise hits the ice for the very first time later on tonight against the Vegas Golden Knights at T-Mobile Arena. With a more restrictive expansion draft setup this time around, Seattle’s front office, led by former Carolina Hurricanes President of Hockey Ops Ron Francis, had their work cut out for them. Those expected to lay the foundation of this franchise include newly named captain Mark Giordano. He also captained the Calgary Flames for nearly a decade prior. Others include Jordan Eberle, Yanni Gourde, and the netminding duo of Philipp Grubauer and Chris Driedger.
Francis, who oversaw a murders row of talent being brought to Raleigh, North Carolina in his tenure, looked to start anew in Seattle. This list includes Sebastian Aho, Andrei Svechnikov, Martin Necas, Noah Hanifin, and Warren Foegele. With the second pick in this year’s draft, they went with University of Michigan center Matt Beniers. The pride of Hingham, Massachusetts averaged a point per game a year ago in Ann Arbor. Currently, he has just started his sophomore year with the program. Other draftees included defenseman Ryker Evans and Ville Ottavainen, and another center in Ryan Winterton.
The head coach of these Kraken is Dave Hakstol, a former Frozen Four winner with the North Dakota Fighting Sioux. In addition to a 3.5-year stint with the Philadelphia Flyers where he got fired 31 games into his fourth season. While not a strong roster on the surface, the Golden Knights had similar concerns in their first year too. Not to say this team is a lock to win the west by any stretch, but if they can gel, they could make some noise. In any case, enjoy the ride Seattle, and welcome to the NHL.
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The Kraken have eight players who scored 25 or more points a season ago. None had more than former Lightning winger Gourde, who tallied 36 points a season ago. Unfortunately, he will miss the team’s first-ever game, due to being on IR from a shoulder injury suffered at some point last postseason. The good news there is that he was expected to miss the opening two months, now that does not seem to be the case. Another goal-scorer whose status is up in the air is Joonas Donskoi. Coming off a 17 goal year with the Colorado Avalanche, he sits on COVID-19 reserve, but could play against Vegas depending on how his test goes.
As far as how the lines could like like, the Kraken may have two of them set. In their final preseason game, they had Jaden Schwartz and Eberle centered by Jared McCann on the top line. The fourth line appears to be Riley Sheahan centering Brandon Tanev and Nathan Bastian. The second line has fluctuated by the looks of it, but the constant has been Alexander Wennberg and Ryan Donato. Donskoi could slot in on the right-wing there. Which would leave the third line as Calle Jarnkrok, Morgan Geekie, and Mason Appleton from left to right. Gourde coming back early could be big however in any case.
Giordano as the leader for this unit cannot be understated enough. Especially considering the Kraken have five defensemen 25 and younger. One of them could likely be paired with him in Vince Dunn. The 24-year-old having some big-game experience at his age is also big. He was a part of the St Louis Blues Cup run back in 2019. A concerning note is that his rating dropped from a plus-15 to a minus-eight in his last two seasons there. Maybe a change of scenery can do Dunn some good, especially if paired with Giordano. “The Big Rig” Jamie Oleksiak is another option here, a member of the 2020 Dallas Stars Cup Final squad.
Adam Larsson, the man formerly traded for former league MVP Taylor Hall years back, likely will serve on the second pair with Carson Soucy. The latter had a plus-22 rating a season ago with the Minnesota Wild, along with a career-high 16 assists. The bottom pair is where then likely will be either Dunn or Oleksiak, paired up with Haydn Fleury most likely. Former Boston Bruin Jeremy Lauzon serving as a seventh defenseman is a good situation for the Kraken. He played some big minutes for the Bruins last year, some even with Norris candidate Charlie McAvoy.
With what was available through free agency and the expansion draft, the Kraken came out tremendously with what they have between the pipes. President of Hockey Ops Francis wasted no time on the open market getting his man in Grubauer. Signing the German netminder to a six-year deal worth north of 35 million dollars in total. Last year with the wagon that is the Colorado Avalanche, he put up a 1.95 goals-against average and a .922 save percentage. In addition to going 30-9 a year ago.
The man behind Grubauer is no slouch himself, that being the now-former Florida Panther Driedger. His numbers in Florida were similar to Grubauer, but due to being behind Sergei Bobrovsky, started a little under half of the Panthers games. With that being said, Driedger did end up going 14-6 in the regular season. He was the odd man out there with BC product Spencer Knight on the rise, but Florida’s loss is Seattle’s gain.
The important thing for Giordano isn’t entirely with his on-ice performance. What is though is helping get this Kraken locker room to buy in, and preferably early. His leadership will be instrumental to help establish this team’s identity not just in year one, but hopefully for years to come. Of course, though, going out and putting up 20-plus minutes of ice time a night and setting the tone defensively cannot hurt either right?
Looking back at the Golden Knights in their first year, the impact that Marc-Andre Fleury had on that squad was invaluable. He put Sin City on his back in ’17-’18 and nearly brought Vegas home a Stanley Cup in year one. While a Cup Final is unlikely to be in the cards for these Kraken, Grubauer going out and continuing his winning ways would be big. The stats may drop off away from a loaded Colorado squad, but confidence coming off of a career year should hopefully help.
Biggest Question Facing the Kraken
What happened in Vegas their first year was the absolute perfect storm. That team rallied together after a horrific mass shooting tragedy to give Las Vegas hope in the following months. Then they made the postseason and miraculously made the Stanley Cup Final in year one. Decimating the Western Conference along the way in the postseason. As a by-product of building a strong team identity and core immediately, Vegas has been a Cup contender every year of their existence.
The odds of the Kraken pulling off a similar ascension is unlikely, which is absolutely ok, Rome was not built in a day either. The question is though how long will it take for the Kraken to round into form? They already have some solid pieces, on top of a front office who have a great track record of evaluating talent. However, how long will this regime, front office, and coaching alike, be given to get this franchise off the ground?
The Pacific Division as constructed has some question marks that could make the Kraken a playoff team. However, at the top, you have Vegas who is absolutely loaded. In addition to the Edmonton Oilers, who have perhaps the best athlete on the planet in Connor McDavid. Not even mentioning the electric former MVP Leon Draisaitl. Depending on how teams like the Canucks and Flames pan out, Seattle could conceivable make the postseason in year one like Vegas before them. Not a guarantee by any means, but the potential is there for the first-year franchise. The Kraken should be an interesting team to watch all season long in any case.
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