The Seattle Kraken have made some shrewd moves this offseason. They are not a Stanley Cup contender at this stage, but we do think they have improved themselves enough to at least be in the playoff conversation come March. Of course, we should caveat that we thought they would be in the hunt in 2021-22, and they instead never came close. Nonetheless, we like what general manager Ron Francis has done this summer, and with the dust mostly settled, we thought now would be a good time to start playing with some way-too-early possible line combinations. So, without further ado, let’s take a look at a few possibilities for the lines that could be deployed by coach Dave Hakstol for the Seattle Kraken this season.
Wild cards and unknowns
Does Shane Wright stick?
When considering how the Kraken might line up this season, there are some true unknowns that make this a slightly more challenging exercise. The biggest wild card is No. 4 overall draft pick Shane Wright. He projects as a first- or second-line center down the road, and putting him between skilled veterans could be the play to help him get to that level more quickly. But we have no idea how he will look in the NHL after jumping from the OHL at just 18 years old.
Wright could burst onto the scene like Matty Beniers did during his brief stint at the end of last season, or he could get off to a slow start that lands him in more of a checking role. Heck, he could go back to the OHL’s Kingston Frontenacs after nine games (the limit for Seattle to avoid burning the first year of Wright’s entry-level contract), which would render this whole conversation moot. We’re going to err on the side of optimism and say he sticks with the Kraken.
Yanni Gourde’s usage
We suspect Wright’s usage will impact Yanni Gourde. Gourde is traditionally a center as well, so assuming Hakstol keeps Beniers and Alex Wennberg in the middle—we would not move either of those players to the wing—that means one of Wright or Gourde would have to move. That is also assuming one of the two doesn’t get buried in a fourth-line role, but playing either in that capacity would not make sense, at least in the traditional sense. What’s intriguing is that if Wright sticks with the Kraken all season and contributes, Seattle will have four bona fide centers who all deserve to play on the third line or higher. That’s a good problem to have.
Chemistry, health, and line juggling
The thing about line combinations is that they change constantly. Every coach swaps players in and out of the lineup, moves guys into different roles depending on matchups, and manipulates combinations to try to find trios that will win games. Lines can change by the minute during a game, and a couple losses in a row could cause even the most prolific of lines to be broken up. So, even if we hit the nail on the head for the open night lineup in Anaheim, there’s a good chance it will look different the following night in Los Angeles.
An exercise like this also assumes good health for the team. We know Brandon Tanev and Jaden Schwartz are coming off major injuries, and we don’t know if there will be lingering effects for either of those players this season.
Finally, we don’t know how guys like Olver Bjorkstrand and Andre Burakovsky will fit in. Burakovsky surely benefitted from playing on the best team in the league last season in Colorado, while Bjorkstrand has only known the Columbus Blue Jackets in his seven years in the NHL. How those skilled players will jell with the Kraken remains to be seen.
Here are three lineup options we like.
Here are two options for the Kraken top line. First, let’s roll with Beniers centering the two top-six newcomers in Burakovsky and Bjorkstrand. Beniers and Bjorkstrand are two skilled playmakers who can also put the puck in the net, and Burakovsky brings a wicked shot and scoring touch. Let Bjorkstrand and Beniers fly around and wreak havoc, and let Burakovsky find a quiet spot on the ice to hopefully replicate (or improve upon) his 22 goals from last season. The wingers also represent a quality veteran presence to help the young Beniers, though Matty didn’t seem to need any assistance in his short NHL stint to close last season. Killer B’s anyone?
The other option we like up top is Beniers centering Jared McCann and Jordan Eberle. Beniers and Eberle showed chemistry last season, and this keeps intact the “veteran presence” surrounding Beniers.
Either way, let’s get Matty plenty of first-line minutes this season.
How do these options sound for a second line? (Option 1) Wennberg between Schwartz and Bjorkstrand or (Option 2) Wennberg between McCann and Eberle. Pick your poison. We love those combinations of playmakers like Wennberg, Eberle, and Bjorkstrand, mixed with a trigger man like McCann or a grind-out-a-greasy-goal guy like Schwartz.
These combos would mean Burakovsky plays on the third line, which seems like a bit of a stretch, but if that happens, Hakstol would effectively be rolling three productive forward lines. That wouldn’t be a bad scenario for the Kraken.
For some reason, we think Shane Wright and Yanni Gourde playing together on Seattle’s third line is destiny. Gourde elevates the game of seemingly every linemate he plays with, so why not trot him out there with the 18-year-old rookie? If we’re penciling them in together, that means we just need to figure out who the other wing would be. We’re thinking Schwartz or Burakovsky, depending on what happens in the top six.
Assuming good health, there will likely be another carousel of players swapping in and out of the fourth line this season. The Kraken are deep with depth players, and guys like Ryan Donato, Morgan Geekie, and Joonas Donskoi are all bound to see some time in the press box on nights when everyone is available.
A fourth line that features the hard-forechecking stylings of both Brandon Tanev and Karson Kuhlman will leave every defender in the league checking his six when retrieving pucks behind the net. Hakstol loves those players, so we expect them to each be in the lineup most nights. As for who would be the pivot between those two, Geekie is the most natural center, but Donato and Donskoi will command plenty of time. So, perhaps there is a world in which Gourde or Wright spends time in a pseudo-fourth-line role, with guys like Donato and/or Donskoi rotating in and Tanev and Kuhlman shuttling back and forth to the third line.
There’s a little less intrigue in the defense pairs, since handedness tends to dictate where individuals lineup, so let’s just go with this:
Vince Dunn / Adam Larsson
Jamie Oleksiak / Justin Schultz
Carson Soucy / Will Borgen
Offseason acquisition Michal Kempny will provide some competition in camp and depth on the left side, while Cale Fleury will challenge Borgen on the right.
In trying to determine who will play where in 2022-23, one thing that really struck us was that this roster is deeper than what Seattle had to start the team’s inaugural season. The additions of Burakovsky and Bjorkstrand and the emergences of Beniers and (hopefully) Wright mean that players who were more or less guaranteed to play in the top six last season may not play in the same roles this year. Having veteran skill on the team’s third and perhaps even fourth line is a luxury that did not exist previously.
Let us know in the comments how you would set your Kraken lineup.
I like the third set of options the best – keep Beniers, Gourde, Wennberg, and Wright at center… Geekie either goes to wing or is an extra. I’d rather Wennberg play down the lineup than move Wright or Gourde to wing.
Burakovsky – Beniers – Bjorkstrand
McCann – Gourde – Eberle
Schwartz – Wright – Tanev
Donato – Wennberg – Geekie/Donskoi/Khulman
I’d love to see Gourde back with McCann and Eberle, as that line was super effective when together last season (66.27 CF%). That’s the de facto top line.
Put the B’s together for Beniers… it’s a bit of an unknown, but worth a try to start the year. I’d be cautious putting Beniers with Eberle… when together last year, the flow was to the opposite end (43.46 CF%; 35.90 HDCF%), while Matty was 61.36 CF% without Ebs. Small sample sizes, but a bit concerning.
Schwartz and Tanev didn’t play much together last season but I’d be intrigued to put them with Wright (if those two are healthy). Tanev can be the madman fore checker, Schwartz the trigger man, Wright can distribute.
Line 4… throw a bunch against the wall and see what sticks based on what you’re trying to do that night. Wennberg can rotate up if one of Beniers, Gourde, or Wright need a break, a night off, or have a nagging injury. I won’t be surprised if four of the five listed there are not on the team next year.
I think you are spot on, Matt!
Okay, what nicknames do we have for the Beniers, Bjorkstrand and Burakovsky line?
Killer Bs seems over-used… and the B Line… well that sounds like they’re not very good.
Maybe the Three Bs… of course that’s the Better Business Bureau.
Or… B³… but that hard to type and if you say B-cubed… well, there’d be nine of them.
I think I’m gonna call it the Beniers line.
I always liked the Killer Bs, but Deep Blue Bs might be a good option too to keep with the Kraken theme
With Beniers on the top line and Wennberg on the second, that only leaves about 22 minutes for Wright and Geekie to split. Is that enough minutes to develop those players? As loaded as Seattle is down the middle with young skaters, I don’t see the logic in putting 5’9″ Yanni Gourde in at center. He should play the wing. If Wright sticks, it really feels like they’ve either got to ship Wennberg, or overpay someone. Right now they have 6 forwards at $5m+, Wennberg at $4.5m, Tanev at $3.5m, plus Beniers, Wright and Geekie. And then there’s $3.9m fourth-liner Donskoi.
Paying $5m to multiple bottom six forwards sounds problematic.
I don’t think it’s wise to allow salary affect the way you build your lines. By the time you’re building lines, the contract ship has already sailed and you need to use your players in whatever combo most benefits the team based on skill level and chemistry. If that means putting a $4-5m player on the fourth line, so be it. Making better use of that money is the GM’s problem to solve, not the coach’s.
If they’re not able to utilize someone up to their potential and another team wants them, Francis should definitely look at opening up cap space to use other ways. But it takes two GMs to tango and most other teams are already cap-strapped at the moment.
There’s also a near zero chance that everyone stays healthy all season, so some of these players will get bumped up the lineup and they probably won’t have expensive fourth lines for long no matter what.
Exactly… that’s why I say it feels like they might need to ship someone – maybe Wennberg. I’m not saying the coach needs to get out his abacus… I’m saying the way the roster is constructed is not efficient… and in a hard-cap-flat-cap, the GM cannot pay multiple bottom six forwards $5m. I know they’re building and casting about… but right now they feel like they have twelve middle-six forwards.
The issue with shipping Wennberg is that it might end up a cap dump. I can’t see anyone wanting to take that salary over.
Carolina… for example. After losing Trocheck they’re young down the middle. A 27 yo middle-six center at $4.5×2 seems reasonable… but this is assuming Wright sticks and they need to free up ice time.
I think lots of people are discounting what Donskoi can bring to the table in a normal year. He’s a mid-thirty point guy, can slide in a lot of places, and forechecks well. His abysmal year last year could be quickly forgotten.
Everyone loves rosterbation season!
I think the Kraken have a Wennberg problem. I never understood why they gave him such a long-term deal, especially coming off his buy out. I feel like the Kraken are stuck with him. So in the short-term, I would pencil him in as 2C, and showcase him for potential suitors.
I’m going with this to start
Schwartz– Beniers –Bjorkstrand
Burakovsky – Wennberg – Eberle
McCann – Wright – Gourde
Tanev – Khulman–Donato