For the first time in two weeks, the Kraken were home for a spirited practice Wednesday at Kraken Community Iceplex. The group worked on high-speed game situations and had all players present and accounted for… except, of course, for Andre Burakovsky. The high-scoring winger has not practiced with his teammates since suffering a lower-body injury in Seattle’s game against the Islanders on Feb. 7.
Head coach Dave Hakstol was asked for an update on Burakovsky and said there has been no change in his status. We didn’t get the sense Burakovsky is particularly close to readiness, and in fact, Hakstol said whenever Burakovsky does join the team for practice, he will still require significant time before he can play a game.
“It’s not ideal as you get to this time of year,” said Hakstol, recognizing there are only two weeks left in the regular season. “We may not have the luxury of the ideal pathway towards [his return].”
The bench boss declined to give any timeline for Burakovsky returning to practice or game action.
The Kraken play timelines close to the vest anyway, but what’s interesting about Hakstol’s update (or lack thereof) is that general manager Ron Francis said in an interview with ROOT Sports on Feb. 26 that he hoped Burakovsky would be back within a couple weeks. Then, we saw Burakovsky skating by himself on March 8, so it seemed like we were marching toward a return. But now three more weeks have passed, and we’re still in “status quo” mode.
That tells us either Burakovsky’s injury has continued to linger and isn’t getting better at the rate the team expected, or he had a setback in his recovery.
Morgan Geekie finding temporary home in Burakovsky’s spot
With Burakovsky out of the lineup, Hakstol has tried several different line combinations to fill the top-six winger role. Brandon Tanev, Jesper Froden, and Oliver Bjorkstrand all got looks there, and of the three, Bjorkstrand was the most natural fit. But moving him up meant breaking up an effective third line of Eeli Tolvanen, Yanni Gourde, and Bjorkstrand.
So, it wasn’t surprising to see the third line reunited recently, but it was a bit surprising to see Hakstol trying out Morgan Geekie—typically a center—on the line next to Jaden Schwartz and Alex Wennberg. From what we saw Wednesday and from what Hakstol said, Geekie could be the guy that fills that role for the foreseeable future.
“We liked the combination with Morgan moving with Wenny and with Schwartzy,” said Hakstol. “It’s looked good offensively. They’ve generated an awful lot of zone time. They’re generating some good offensive looks from down low in the zone, which— that gets Schwartzy back in his office a little bit where he’s able to spend time down low.”
Geekie seems to be relishing the elevated opportunity. We’ve heard him say on several occasions over the past two seasons that if he’s given a chance to contribute on a higher line, he can do it. One of his best games of the year came when he was filling in for an injured Matty Beniers, just before the All-Star break. So when he’s gotten games in top-six roles, he has done well.
“Obviously Wenny and Schwartzy are pretty good players,” Geekie said. “I think the game well enough to play on that spot, for sure. And I know I can make plays, personally. I’m just trying to take the opportunity to create as much as I can for those guys, space and plays alike. So, just try to play my game and try to get comfortable with those guys.”
Moving from fourth-line center to a top-six wing role is a change for Geekie, who says he prides himself on being a good defensive centerman. Now, he has Wennberg—who Geekie calls a great defensive center in his own right—to do some of the tougher work low in the defensive zone. That frees up Geekie to get up ice and try to stretch out opposing defenses.
“I want to be strong in our own end and things like that, but there’s a little more opportunity to jump the zone and kind of spread it for the other guys,” Geekie explained. “Any opportunity that I can get to be the first one out [of the defensive zone], if it’s coming up the other side, I’ve got good speed and I can kind of push the zone and spread it for other guys.”
Daniel Sprong closing in on 20 goals
We’ve written and talked a lot about Daniel Sprong and the offensive success he’s had this season. It has been fascinating to watch, mostly because he has had to clear hurdle after hurdle to get a contract, a spot on the NHL roster, and even now, a spot in the lineup. Yet, here he sits, just one goal away from 20 for the first time in his career, despite never being elevated off the fourth line.
“It’s not bad for a fourth-line guy,” Sprong joked. “No, I try not to think about it. Of course, being one away— you saw Matty [get his 20th] in Nashville. We were kind of joking around when we were both at 19, I said, ‘You go get 20, and then I’ll go right after you.’”
Sprong has been especially hot of late and scored goals in three straight games between Dallas and the two games in Nashville. He was held off the board in Minnesota on Monday, but it wasn’t for lack of trying.
“I think in Minnesota, I had 13 shot attempts,” Sprong said. “I’m gonna get my looks and hopefully find one here. It would be nice to do it against my old team [Thursday] night; that’d be a bonus.”
Sprong tied Schwartz for most shots on goal across all skaters in the Minnesota game, despite playing just 13:18 of ice time.
Fourth line success
Although Geekie has been temporarily elevated to a top-six role, he and Sprong have been key cogs in the machine that is Seattle’s fourth line this season. Almost every night, that bottom trio has been some combination of Tanev, Sprong, Geekie, and/or Ryan Donato.
It has been impressive to watch them drive play and produce offensively, especially when you consider that the usual role of a fourth line is simply to check, provide energy, and wear down opposing defenses.
“We’re a little different than most fourth lines,” Geekie said. “We’re not as much crash and bang. We’re more or less an offensive line, for sure.”
Despite limited minutes on a lot of nights, the four players that typically rotate in and out of that line have combined for 54 goals this season.
“Some nights we might only get nine minutes, and we know we’re only gonna get a handful of times where we can create offense,” Geekie said. “So we try to make the most of that.”
Geekie and Sprong agree the secret to the group’s success is that they’ve all spent plenty of time together at this point, and they’re a good fit with one another.
“I’m more the offensive guy that will take the chances, I’ll make the risky [plays], and then if it works out, you know we’re off to the races,” Sprong said. “And if not, Geeks— he’s great down the middle with us, and he sometimes saves my ass a little bit so it doesn’t look bad. But, no, we complement each other really well. And that’s the biggest thing as a line.”
Added Geekie, “Obviously, Spongey’s got a shot, Tans is kind of making space for everyone else, and Donny’s hard on pucks. So everyone’s kind of got the role, and when I’m there, I just try to complement those guys as much as I can and give them the puck in spots where they can do damage with it.”
Hakstol recognizes the value that rotating group of fourth-liners has brought to the team this season as well.
“They’ve played a lot of minutes together,” Hakstol said. “I’ve got my evaluation of what each of those combinations of three looks like and what the numbers say. At the end of the day, whoever has been part of that, it’s been a good productive line for us.”