Kraken fans, we have our name, but the expansion draft is still a year away, so with no team in Stanley Cup Playoffs that begins Saturday, who should we be rooting for? Don’t worry, I’ve got you covered with a “high-tech” computer algorithm to evaluate how strong each team’s ties are to our beloved PNW Kraken region. Trust me, this is very scientific and who would dispute science these days? Without further ado, here is the definitive ranking of your allegiances this playoff season.
#1 Edmonton Oilers
Edmonton has volume and value. They not only have a lot of Northwest connections, but the connections are also diverse; four of the US WHL teams are represented.
Kailer Yamamoto – The algorithm always values the Washington born players just a little bit more. Yamamoto was born in Spokane and would play four seasons with the Spokane Chiefs. He was the first round pick of the Oilers in 2017 and established himself as a full time NHLer this year after spending the first half of the season in Bakersfield, Edmonton’s AHL affiliate, rehabbing a wrist injury. Since the call-up, Yamamoto has averaged close to a point a game with 11 goals and 15 assists in 27 games.
Ethan Bear is one of the Seattle Thunderbirds fan favorites. Bear was a big part of the Thunderbirds WHL championship in 2017 and played for the team for four seasons. 2019-20 was Bear’s first full season in the NHL and he has already established himself as a regular Top-4 defenseman. Ethan Bear is not only a dynamo on the ice, but he is also a great human off the ice.
Jujhar Khaira has been a steady winger for the Oilers the last 3 years. He played one full season for the Everett Silvertips and put up 43 points in 59 games.
Caleb Jones is defenseman that played 2 seasons with the Portland Winterhawks during the 2015-16 and 2016-17 seasons. He is the brother of elite NHL defenseman, Seth Jones, and is just establishing himself in the league. He played two thirds of his season in the NHL with only a brief stint in the AHL. His comfort seems to be growing in the NHL and I imagine he should get some significant playing time in these playoffs.
Dave Tippett joined NHL Seattle in the summer of 2018 to take care of a lot of the hockey operations items and strategy, including locker room designs, AHL affiliate, just to name a few. Everything from locker room layout to evaluating the AHL franchise location. Tip would make several public appearances either on TV shows, WHL Games, and even a podcast. (check out this interview with tip on the Sound of Hockey podcast)
#2 Washington Capitals
The Washington Capitals ties to Washington State have been significant with the TJ Oshie trade in the summer of 2015. They also added a Silvertip and a Thunderbird over the last year.
TJ Oshie is Seattle’s native son of hockey. Born in Everett and growing up in Mt Vernon, TJ played in the Seattle Junior Hockey association before moving to Warroad Minnesota at 15 to further develop his hockey talents. TJ became a legend in Sochi in 2014 and won the Stanley Cup in 2018.
On this day, 4 years ago, we witnessed one of the greatest Olympic hockey moments of all-time.
— #TokyoOlympics (@NBCOlympics) February 15, 2018
Brendan Dillion was a huge fan favorite when he played in Seattle for 4 seasons including the Key…er Climate…or let’s just say the Arena that existed prior to Climate Pledge Arena. As discussed on the Sound of Hockey podcast, Dillion would be part of the TBirds team that would play the first ever season in accesso ShoWare Center. (Find out why the called him Zeus in Seattle)
Radku Gudas may have only played one year in Everett, but it was a memorable one. Gudas had 37 points as a defenseman and would also log 151 penalty minutes.
#3 Columbus Blue Jackets
Seth Jones played for the Portland Winterhawks during their WHL Championship season of 2012-13 and is now one of the NHL’s elite defensemen. He suffered an injury in February that kept him out of the last 6 weeks of the regular season, but the NHL pause has proved beneficial to his recovery.
Oliver Bjorkstrand was also part of that Portland Winterhawks team. In addition to the Championship 2012-13 season, Bjorkstrand would play an additional 2 years with the Winterhawks where he would put up over 50 goals and 100 points in each of those 2 seasons.
Ryan Murray played 4 seasons with the Everett Silvertips. He was picked second overall in the 2012 NHL Entry Draft. When healthy, Murray is a very reliable top-4 D-man. Unfortunately, for the last few years he had been dealing with back issues that have kept him out of quite a few games including all of last year’s playoffs for the Blue Jackets. He has been a full participant during the return to play training camp which bodes well for him in the post season.
#4 Tampa Bay Lightning
Tyler Johnson is Spokane born and raised. He played 4 years with the Spokane Chiefs and was part of the Memorial Cup winning team back in 2008. This undrafted forward is a gamer. I would not shut up about him back in the 2015 playoffs and if you follow me on Twitter, you will probably get sick of me talking about him there.
Brayden Coburn is a grizzled veteran and the type of player you would love to see hoist the cup. He played 4 years with the Portland Winter Hawks from 2001-02 to 2004-05.
Jason Berger is not someone you will see on a game sheet, but he is the Assistant Equipment Manager, but in a prior life he was the Head Equipment Manager for the Seattle Thunderbirds. Don’t believe me? Check out his fun interview about spinning laundry on the Sound of Hockey podcast.
#5 New York Islanders
Mat Barzal is good at hockey. Mat Barzal played 4 seasons with the Seattle Thunderbirds from 2013-14 to 2016-17 and was obviously a huge part of the 2017 WHL Championship Team. He will be a lot of fun to watch in the playoffs and the only downside is we won’t get to see him possess the puck for 2 minutes straight in a 3on3 overtime scenario.
Thomas Hickey also played with the Thunderbirds from 2005-06 to 2008-09. Hickey had a rough year on and off the ice dealing with injuries and his brother’s health issues and eventual death. Hickey has been with the team during return to play training camp and appears to be part of the “top 6” defensemen which translates to being a regular once the games begin.
#6 Philadelphia Flyers
Carter Hart, ever heard of this guy? Hart was 2-time CHL Goaltender of the Year while playing for the Everett Silvertips for the 2015-16 and 2016-17 seasons. Hart will turn 22 during the first round of the playoffs and is the youngest regular goalie in the league.
Nate Thompson played for the Seattle Thunderbirds from 2001-02 to 2004-05. Thompson was traded to Philadelphia at the trade deadline from Montreal. He won’t put up huge numbers, but he is the type of unsung hero that tends to pop up during the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Nate is a great person and the type of person you just can’t help not to root for.
#7 Winnipeg Jets
Luca Sbisa played 12 regular season and 13 playoff games for the Portland Winterhawks during the 2009-10 season. It is pretty slim pickens on Winnipeg’s roster.
Eric Comrie played 4 seasons with Tri-City Americans between 2011-12 to 2014-15. Comrie is at best 3rd on the Jets goalie depth chart and might not see the ice during the playoffs, but there have been several teams that have used three goalies in a Stanley Cup Playoff before.
Wade Flaherty. Excuse me…who? Flaherty is the goalie coach in Winnipeg. He played 9 games for the Seattle Thunderbirds and 5 games for the Spokane Chiefs during the 1985-86 season. Now that is a player with some strong connections to the Northwest, am I right?
#8 Calgary Flames
Derek Ryan, a Washington native, flies under our local radar. Ryan’s path to the NHL is a story worth knowing and is another one of those guys that you just love to root for. Here are the Cliff Notes on Ryan’s journey: After 4 years with his hometown Spokane Chiefs from 2003-04 to 2006-07, the undrafted center would play 4 years in the Canadian University system where he would get his degree. He then played 3 years of pro hockey in Austria which he parlayed into a season in Sweden which then earned him his first North America pro contract with the Carolina Hurricanes organization. After one year in the AHL in 2015-16, Ryan would be a regular in the NHL with 3 years with the Hurricanes and the last 2 years with the Flames.
Juuso Valimaki was a 1st round draft pick of the Calgary Flames in 2017. He played 3 seasons for the Tri-City Americans and averaged a point per game in his last 2 years. That is good for a forward, but he is a defenseman. Valimaki suffered an ACL injury last summer and was expected to miss the entire season. It sounds like he will be ready to go for the playoffs, but the team might keep him out to make sure he is exempt in next year’s expansion draft.
#9 Carolina Hurricanes
Nino Niederreiter played 2 years with the Portland Winterhawks during the 2009-10 and 2010-11 seasons where he averaged over a point per game.
Morgan Geekie played 3 full years with the Tri-City Americans. During the 2017-18 WHL playoffs he would put up 17 goals over 14 games. He has been averaging over 20 goals per season in his 2 years in the AHL. He has only played 2 NHL Games to date, but the Canes could inject some fresh legs into the lineup if they win a few rounds.
Jake Bean also played for the Tri-City Americans for a half of a season in 2017-18. Bean only played half a season + 14 playoff games. Like Geekie, he has also played the last two years with the Charlotte Checkers in the AHL and is on the edge of breaking onto the roster and is probably an injury or two away from making his Stanley Cup Playoff debut.
#10 Minnesota Wild
Jared Spurgeon played 5 seasons with the Spokane Chiefs from 2005-06 to 2009-10 and was part of the WHL Championship and Memorial Cup winning team in 2008. This 6th rounder NHL draft pick has over 650 games and is one of the Wild’s top defensemen.
Matt Dumba played half of a season with the Portland Winterhawks in 2013-14 and was part of the team that reached the WHL Final. Dumba is another top defenseman on the Wild and has a bright future in this league.
#11 Vegas Golden Knights
Shea Theodore played with the Thunderbirds for four years from 2011-12 to 2014-15. Theodore ended up in Vegas via a side deal during the 2017 expansion draft. Since then he has been stellar on the blue line for the Golden Knights and has been getting better with every season. Even with the shortened regular season, Shea had a career high on goals (13) and assists (33) before the stoppage.
Keegan Kolesar was a big part of the Seattle Thunderbirds 2016-17 WHL Championship Season. Keegs has only logged one NHL regular season game, so he might not play much in the early rounds. But, if Vegas makes a deep run and by the law of attrition due to injuries, you might see him suit up in the playoffs.
Dylan Coghlan played 4 years with the Tri-City Americans from 2014-15 Season to 2017-18. This undrafted defenseman has yet to play in the NHL, but he was invited to return to play training camp. Coghlan will travel to the Edmonton bubble, but is almost guaranteed to be further down the depth chart.
#12 Nashville Predators
Ryan Johansen played 2 seasons with the Portland Winterhawks during the 2009-10 and 2010-11 seasons. He centers the top line for the Predators which will need to produce should Nashville expect to advance past the first round of the playoffs.
#13 Boston Bruins
Brandon Carlo has been a steady blueliner for the Boston Bruins over the last 4 seasons. He played 3 seasons for the Tri-City Americans from 2013-14 to 2015-16 and should get plenty of ice time during these playoffs.
#14 Pittsburgh Penguins
Patrick Marleau played two seasons with the Seattle Thunderbirds in 1995-96 & 1996-97. In his last season in Seattle he put up 51 goals and 125 points over 71 games. Not bad for an 18 year old. Marleau is one of the local’s favorite Thunderbirds ever and is the NHL’s 5th all-time in games played with 1,723. I know there are a lot of Sharks fans and Tbirds fans that will be big Penguins fans this playoff.
Michael Grabner played 3 seasons with the Spokane Chiefs from 2004-05 to 2006-07. This speedy winger has been inconsistent over the last couple of years, but can score flashy goals from time to time.
Adin Hill played 2 seasons for the Portland Winterhawks during 2014-15 & 2015-16. He is the 3rd goalie in the depth chart for the Coyotes heading into the playoffs, but their starter, Dacey Kuemper, had some injuries that have sidelined him for a bit. With the NHL’s long pause, you wonder if goalies could be more vulnerable this playoff season and therefore trigger an opportunity for Adin Hill. Additionally, Adin Hill could be an expansion target for Seattle next year. Keep an eye out.
Carey Price has established himself as a legend in the NHL, but before that he played for the Tri City Americans from 2003-04 to 2006-07. Price doesn’t need much of an intro, but for those that don’t know, he is largely considered one of the best goalies in the league. Canadiens will probably need Carey Price to stand on his head to have any chance in these playoffs.
Noah Juulsen played 4 seasons with the Everett Silvertips from 2013-14 to 2016-17. Juulsen is having a bit of a rough road to the NHL and has yet to establish himself as a permanent fixture in the NHL. Despite not playing any NHL games this season, he did get a training camp invite, but it might be a stretch to get in a game this playoff season.
#17 Florida Panthers
Colton Sceviour played 2+ seasons with the Portland Winterhawks from 2005-06 to 2006-07. He plays further down the line on the Panthers forward lines and will play important minutes on the 3rd or 4th line.
#18 St. Louis Blues
Derrick Pouliot played 4 seasons with the Portland Winterhawks from 2010-11 to 2013-14. He ended up playing most of the 2019-20 regular season with the Blues AHL affiliate, the San Antonio Rampage, yet was invited to Phase 3 training camp. It would not be unheard of for the Blues to go deep into playoffs and rely on some of their depth as injuries happen in the playoffs.
Landon Bow played half of a season in Seattle during the 2015-16 season and would mind the pipes during the Tbirds run to the WHL Championship final where they would lose to the Brandon Wheat Kings. He was not in Seattle long, but it was an impressive and important time in Seattle Thunderbirds history. Being that he is roughly the 3rd or 4th goalie for the Stars, he is unlikely to see the ice. But if either Bishop or Khudobin go down with an injury, we might be able to get a glimpse of him on the bench.
Deep Cut: The Stars assistant coach, Derek Laxdal played 39 games for the Portland Winterhawks his rookie WHL season back in the 1982-83 season.
A bit of a stretch
Jared Bednar – The Avs head coach played for the Spokane Chiefs for 2ish years from 1991-1992. In his only complete season with the Chiefs, he amassed 200 penalty minutes in 62 games played. (https://www.nhl.com/avalanche/team/jared-bednar)
#21 Toronto Maple Leafs
I may or may not be reaching here, but Assistant Coach, Dave Hakstol, was the head coach of the University of North Dakota while Seattle’s native son of hockey, TJ Oshie attended UND from 2005-06 to 2007-08. In addition to Hakstol, the Leafs Director of Pro Scouting, Troy Bodie, is the nephew of Seattle Kraken CEO, Tod Leiweke and son in law of OVG CEO Tim Leiweke.
Teams with no Northwest Fandom whatsoever
#22 Chicago Blackhawks
There are a lot of Blackhawks fans out here, but for the life of me I could not find a connection to our region. What this tells me…it is time for you Blackhawks fans to move on.
#23 New York Rangers
Unfortunately, I could not find any Seattle connection to this franchise. I tried; you know I tried.
#24 That team to the north
That team might be the closest team to Seattle, but they have no players or coaches that have ties to our territory. This is fate! We did not want to root for them anyway!