The Seattle Kraken are a dark horse emerging from the bottom of the Pacific: Previewing the Pacific
Photo credit:© Bob Frid-USA TODAY Sports
By Michael Liu1 year ago
There were expectations surrounding the newest expansion team in NHL history. After all, with how the Vegas Golden Knights started their existence off, it would be a tough act to follow. However, the Seattle Kraken took the other fork in the road. They stumbled out of the gates and never recovered from that point on, plummeting to the very bottom of the league and staying in the basement.
In the offseason, the Kraken did make some interesting additions, but will it be enough to help them get out of the depths of the division?
Improved offensive options
Seattle’s expansion draft left them with a squadron of good middle-six forwards. All of them were capable second-line players and very good third-liners. That being said, the Kraken lacked a true game breaker up front. It ended up being costly as they would score the 4th least goals in the NHL last season.
This year, they’re fielding a forward corps of… good middle-six forwards. Okay, just kidding, they’ve added a couple of pieces that should prove to be top-6 level players. For one, Oliver Bjorkstrand was stolen away from the Columbus Blue Jackets for pennies. He’s been overlooked as a play-driving centreman, someone who is good at everything and especially at creating chances for his teammates. It’s something that was lacking last year for the Kraken and should address the need for a true top-line option.
As well, the Kraken wrestled Andre Burakovsky away from the Stanley Cup champion Avalanche. He was never going to sign the same deal to stay in Denver and Seattle did well to capitalize on the opportunity. Burakovsky arrives off the back of a 61-point season, but questions remain about his ability to be an offensive leader instead of a passenger. The Swede mainly was a complimentary piece with the Avalanche but should see an elevated role in the Pacific Northwest.
These additions bolster an already pretty deep lineup. Jordan Eberle was his ever-reliable self with the Kraken, while Jaden Schwartz looks to bounce back after a pretty injury-riddled season last year. Both are capable of second-line production and should be counted upon to do so for Seattle. Yanni Gourde, Jared McCann, and Alex Wennberg are more than good options to fill out their top three lines.
The biggest highlights however are their two young centremen. Matty Beniers and Shane Wright are the future of the Kraken franchise and are probably the highest-end talent this team has to boast. That being said, they still are relatively unproven at the NHL level. Expectations are heavy on their shoulders and eyes will be on them to see if they’ll produce like a Nathan MacKinnon, or an Alexis Lafreniere in their first full season of NHL hockey.
Solid if unspectacular defence
It goes without saying that some things don’t show up on the stat sheet. There’s no better player that exemplifies this than Jamie Oleksiak, who emerged as a physical shutdown defenceman during his second stint with the Dallas Stars. The same remained true with the Kraken as he held down the fort with his usual hard-nosed presence and ability to snuff out opposing offences. Oleksiak will continue to be relied upon as the rock for the Kraken on the back end.
A second pairing of Adam Larsson and Justin Schultz also doesn’t sound so bad. Larsson had a rough go in Edmonton mainly because of who he was traded for, but he’s still a good defenceman that plays a reliable two-way game without too many holes. Schultz is a borderline top-4 option even with all the ups and downs of his NHL career. He’ll bring a veteran presence to the back end while also providing for more potential offence from the blueline.
The third pairing is shaping up to be Carson Soucy and William Borgen. Soucy actually led the Kraken in goal production amongst defencemen, something that seems odd for a projected third-pairing defenceman. But, if he can sustain that production, it adds an element of depth to this blueline that would be very helpful. As for Borgen, he plays an unremarkable game but gets the job done. If he remains his usual self, not many Kraken fans will be complaining.
Probably the biggest difference maker this season will be seeing if Vince Dunn can make the next step up. He arrived in Seattle with high expectations after a promising four seasons with the St Louis Blues. While Dunn tied his career high with 35 points, he didn’t really take that next step forward that many expected in more important minutes. Tightening up his transition game and becoming more engaged in the offence will be the next big step in Dunn’s game. If he can do that, then Seattle’s blueline will be pretty darn good.
Goaltending that needs to rebound
The biggest glaring hole in the Seattle lineup is in net. Philipp Grubauer’s struggles last season were very well publicized. After departing from the Avalanche, the German netminder got dummied hard as the Kraken’s starter. Grubauer recorded 18 wins in 55 games, sporting an abysmal 3.16 GAA and 0.889 SV%. These aren’t the numbers that an NHL starting calibre goalie should be posting, and it’s an ugly anomaly on an otherwise solid career. Granted, the team in front of him didn’t do him much favours, but Grubauer desperately needs a bounce-back year for the Kraken to get off the ground.
As well, the backup apparent in Chris Driedger won’t be featuring much for Seattle next year. The netminder suffered an ACL injury in May and isn’t projected to return until January of 2023. Driedger too underperformed in his first season with the Kraken, a 2.96 GAA with a 0.899 SV%. Hopefully when he returns, he can return to the heights he showed during his time with the Panthers.
In the meantime, the Kraken have signed Martin Jones to be the placeholder backup until Driedger returns. Jones hasn’t exactly been starter quality since the 2017-18 season with the Sharks, and his time with the Flyers really showed how much of a rollercoaster ride it is with him between the pipes. Perhaps things will be different now that he’s closer to home, but don’t put too much stock in him performing beyond expectations.
In all, goaltending is the shakiest aspect of this Seattle team and could be the backbreaker in situations. Sometimes, it isn’t possible to outscore all of your problems.
How the Canucks stack up
While Seattle definitely has improved since their inaugural season, it probably isn’t enough to be better than Vancouver. Sure, the Kraken have two of the best centre prospects in the league, as well as some good pieces in the top 6, but it’s also not anything that the Canucks don’t have an answer for. Vancouver’s top 9 can absolutely go toe to toe with theirs, and what gives the Canucks the edge is the potential for improvement. Unlike Seattle’s lineup of mostly middle-to-late 20-year-olds or early 30-year-olds, Vancouver is on the younger side with intrigue and potential for growth. It could be the difference maker this season if Nils Hoglander or Vasily Podkolzin takes the next step forward in their development.
As for the defence, it would have to be around the same for both clubs. The Canucks have the offensive production from the blueline can mask some of the defensive lapses that they are prone to, while still doing enough to keep the puck out of their net. Where Vancouver is better than Seattle is in their transitional game, with multiple defencemen capable of breaking it out or skating out of trouble. Seattle has one or two at most, though their play in their own zone is definitely more solid than the Canucks.
Goaltending has to be given to the Canucks right now, though that could change if Grubauer can recapture his Vezina finalist self. If the Kraken get 2020-21 Grubauer, it becomes a completely different ballgame. Right now, however, with all the question marks surrounding the position for Seattle and with how solid Demko is and projects to be, there’s no question the Canucks have the edge in this category.
The I-5 rivalry will take another step forth this season. With Seattle taking a step forward and getting closer to Vancouver in terms of skill and talent, there’s going to be a lot more fireworks in more hotly contested games. That being said, the Kraken aren’t quite yet at the point to exceed the Canucks, at least on paper. They’ll most likely finish behind Vancouver in the standings, but if one or two things break right for them, it could be a very different story.
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