The Seattle Kraken took the ice together Monday for the first time since Jan. 28, and it was a sight for sore eyes in several ways. Not only was it the team’s first action since breaking for bye week and the NHL All-Star festivities, but there were several indicators that the previously banged-up group could be made whole again very soon.
We were pleasantly surprised to see every Kraken player (except Joonas Donskoi) present and accounted for at Northwell Health Ice Center in East Meadow, N.Y. That included the likes of previously injured players Matty Beniers, Justin Schultz, Jaden Schwartz, and even Chris Driedger, who took live reps from his teammates for what we believe was the first time since tearing his ACL in the offseason.
Coach Dave Hakstol was unwilling to say who would be officially available for Tuesday’s game against the Islanders, but he did reveal to Sound Of Hockey that at least *some* of the injured players are on track to play.
“We’re gonna wait until tomorrow to get closer to making some decisions,” Hakstol said. “I think a couple of guys should be ready to go by the looks of it, but we wanted to get through today’s practice, and then as we get to tomorrow morning, we should be able to make some final decisions. And there might even be a game-day decision in there.”
So, take that as you will, but all three of Beniers, Schultz, and Schwartz were full participants.
Here is how line rushes shook out for the Kraken at Monday’s practice:
McCann // Wennberg // Eberle
Schwartz // Beniers // Burakovsky
Tolvanen // Gourde // Bjorkstrand
Tanev // Donato // Sprong
Dunn // Larsson
Oleksiak // Borgen
Soucy // Schultz
Megna // Fleury
Oleksiak and Borgen sticking together?
Those who have paid close attention to the team’s lineup this season would recall that before Schultz went down, the defense pairings were practically set in stone, with Jamie Oleksiak playing alongside Schultz on the second pairing.
But, Will Borgen was still paired with Oleksiak Monday, indicating Hakstol and his staff really liked what they saw from that duo in Schultz’s absence.
“We left [Borgen] together today with [Oleksiak],” said Hakstol. “Those two played really well over the last few games with Schultzy out of the lineup. So there’s a potential of leaving that group of four together, and then depending upon Schultzy’s availability coming off the injury, there’s likely some different options in that third pair.”
The “group of four” that Hakstol was referring to was Vince Dunn with Adam Larsson on the top pair and Oleksiak with Borgen on the second pair.
Jaycob Megna’s first Kraken practice
The makeup of Seattle’s third pairing will be interesting to monitor moving forward, especially if Schultz truly is ready for a return. Lest you forget, the team acquired Jaycob Megna Sunday for a conditional fourth-round draft pick, adding another depth left-shot blueliner to the mix.
Based on what we saw Monday, we would guess Hakstol is leaning toward keeping Carson Soucy in the lineup for Tuesday, but it’s only a matter of time before Megna, the 6-foot-6 former Shark who played big minutes next to Erik Karlsson, makes his debut.
After seeing Megna practice for the first time, Hakstol said he likes what the 30-year-old brings to the table. “He’s had a pretty fast-moving last 12 hours, but it was good to get him in for practice,” Hakstol said. “He’s done a real nice job this year in a two-way role. He’s been really solid in playing some important minutes, so he’s a guy that we feel really adds to our group on the back end. He’s reliable, he’s a big, heavy body, he can move the puck.”
If everybody is healthy, Seattle looks poised to go back to carrying two extra defensemen and one extra forward, as it did most of last season. We suspect that means Cale Fleury will return to being a healthy scratch (rather unfairly, considering how well he has performed), while one of Megna or Soucy will get the nod each night on the left side of the third pair.
It was a needed break for a banged-up team
The long layoff came at an ideal time for this group, which had recently gone from having all its regulars in the lineup every night to us wondering, Who is actually available to play tonight?
Injuries aside, even the healthy players were showing signs of fatigue after battling through an arduous January schedule.
“The break was good; I mean, we needed a break,” Hakstol said. “Obviously health-wise, we needed a break, mentally, I believe it’s a good time for the break. The guys are— you know, you can see the energy coming back, and you could feel that last night and today. Now we have to dial that into a game level.”
The Kraken coach said he believes the team is ready to get back to work and knows the task at hand on what could be a tough road trip through the New York metro area, then Philadelphia and Winnipeg. He did mention he thinks the “crispness and sharpness” could take a dip in the early going against the Isles, but he expects his club to have good energy.
“It starts tomorrow,” Hakstol added. “Grinding starts tomorrow, and that opportunity starts again.”
Did the team grow closer during the break?
If you follow any Kraken players on Instagram, you know several of them jetted off to tropical locales during the hiatus, with several players heading to Los Cabos and several more checking in from Hawaii.
For the closeness of the team, it was encouraging to see many of the players together, soaking up rays, going on deep-sea fishing excursions, and celebrating a successful first half of the season.
“That’s a characteristic of this group,” Hakstol said. “They like spending time together, and that’s why they spend a ton of time together away from the rink. That’s been part of what’s translated on the ice for us into being a pretty tight, hard-working team.”
The Kraken get back to game action Tuesday against Bo Horvat and the New York Islanders at UBS Arena on Long Island. Our “Twitter intern” plans to be at morning skate, so drop us a follow @sound_hockey for lineup updates.