Before we get to the meat of this story, a bit of Kraken news, as Joonas Donskoi announced his retirement from professional hockey Sunday via his Instagram account. Donskoi, 31, cited multiple concussions in the post as the reason for his early departure from the game.
Selected from Colorado in the Expansion Draft, Donskoi had a tough inaugural season with the Kraken. Although he played 75 games, he scored just two goals and found himself scratched from the lineup on a few occasions. That came after four consecutive seasons of 14 goals or more, so it was a significant dropoff. He then got injured during a preseason game in the lead-up to the 2022-23 season and ended up missing the entire campaign.
Donskoi played seven NHL seasons in total; four with San Jose, two with Colorado, and one with Seattle. He had 80 career goals and added 128 assists in 474 games. He played in a Stanley Cup Final for the Sharks in 2016 and also won a Presidents’ Trophy with the Avalanche in 2021.
Most important, though, Donskoi is one of the nicest people you can encounter. We will very much miss his infectious smile, and we are still grateful for that time he rescued the press corps from a large spider that was crawling across the floor of the Kraken dressing room.
We wish Joonas and his family all the best as they move into the next chapter of their lives.
Training camp is coming
Shifting gears now, the hockey news abyss that is the month of August is almost over, and that means Seattle Kraken training camp is once again right around the corner. The offseason played out in a relatively quiet manner for the Seattle front office, and a lack of big splashes left several questions open as we head toward the third season in franchise history.
We ask those questions here and also try to answer them.
Question 1: Which forwards make the team out of camp?
The moves the Kraken made this offseason were mostly backfilling transactions to cover for players that departed via free agency, namely the team’s entire fourth line and its third-pair left defenseman.
Out went Daniel Sprong, Morgan Geekie, Ryan Donato, and Carson Soucy, and in came Kailer Yamamoto, Pierre-Edouard Bellemare, and Brian Dumoulin. Yes, we’re naming more departures from the NHL roster than arrivals to the NHL roster, so there are lingering arguments to be had about who should snag the last couple spots when camp breaks.
Still, with Andre Burakovsky likely to return from a groin tear suffered in February, the forward lineup is mostly full.
Jared McCann // Matty Beniers // Jordan Eberle
Andre Burakovsky // Alex Wennberg // Jaden Schwartz
Oliver Bjorkstrand // Yanni Gourde // Eeli Tolvanen
Brandon Tanev // Pierre-Edouard Bellemare // Kailer Yamamoto
Fighting for spots:
Tye Kartye // Kole Lind // Shane Wright // John Hayden
Beyond the 12 forwards listed on lines above, Kartye, Lind, Wright, and Hayden will all be battling to make the Kraken. But if there aren’t injuries, we’re not sure where coach Dave Hakstol will be able to slot those players to get them consistent playing time; one would have to supplant a more veteran forward (could Bellemare, 38, spend time as a scratch this season?).
One would think Kartye has an inside track to the NHL roster after demonstrating during the playoffs that he can play in the Kraken’s top six. The AHL rookie of the year looked like a grizzled veteran in the Stanley Cup Playoffs and notched three goals and two assists in 10 games for Seattle. He then went back to Coachella Valley and picked up right where he left off, adding eight more points in 18 Calder Cup Playoff games. All of that points toward Kartye breaking camp with the big club.
There’s a wrinkle here. Remember, Kartye does not require waivers to get to Coachella Valley, whereas Lind does require them. We thought Lind was right on the cusp of making the team last season, only to be sent to the Firebirds, where he too was one of the team’s stars and posted 30 goals and 32 assists in 72 regular-season games, then a whopping 31 points in 26 playoff games.
If Kartye ends up being the guy Seattle wants to keep in the NHL, that could mean the organization would again have to risk losing Lind by placing him on waivers.
These things tend to work themselves out, but it’s worth keeping an eye on how the forward lineup evolves through Seattle’s preseason.
Question 2: Where does Shane Wright play this season?
By the letter of the law, Wright is still technically ineligible to play in the AHL this season because of the rules of the CHL/NHL transfer agreement. Had he played just one more game in the OHL before his Windsor Spitfires were swept out of the playoffs, this would no longer be a topic of conversation, and the Coachella Valley Firebirds would be a viable option.
We know discussions have been happening behind the scenes to determine if the involved leagues will make an exception and allow Wright to play for the Firebirds. We expect he will be cleared to play in the AHL, but nothing has been stated officially on that yet.
If it doesn’t work out in Seattle’s favor, and NHL or OHL end up being the only options, it will be interesting to see what kind of progress Wright has made this offseason. At the end of his playoff run with the Firebirds, he had started to show readiness for pro hockey and looked great in development camp. But is he ready for the NHL?
Going back to the OHL would be a waste of time for Wright, so if it ends up being NHL or juniors, we think he would stay with the NHL team and again be used sparingly.
That said, we still think the AHL is the best place for Wright at this point, and we think he will be allowed to play there.
Question 3: What happens with Ryker Evans this season?
On the back end, the decision by general manager Ron Francis to bring in Dumoulin on a two-year, $6.3 million deal effectively solidified that Ryker Evans will start the season in the AHL, unless there’s an injury to a left-shot defenseman.
The puck-moving 21-year-old is surely closing in on a spot with the NHL club, though, after he put up 44 points in 71 games for Coachella Valley in the regular season, then 26 in 26 playoff games. Evans is silky smooth and brings an offensive element from the blue line that Seattle lacks.
Meanwhile, with righties Adam Larsson, Justin Schultz, and Will Borgen all back, it does seem like Cale Fleury is destined for the seventh-defenseman role again, doesn’t it?
Question 4: Who will be the backup goalie?
The last two seasons have been turbulent for Chris Driedger, who originally signed his three-year, $10.5 million contract in 2021 expecting to be the starting goalie for the Kraken. Instead, Seattle also signed Philipp Grubauer before the inaugural season, putting Driedger into a true backup spot.
Driedger tore his ACL while representing Canada at the IIHF World Championship after the 2021-22 season ended, then spent the majority of 2022-23 rehabbing. When he came back, Martin Jones (now under contract with the Toronto Maple Leafs) had taken his backup spot, so Driedger was assigned to Coachella Valley.
Back fully healthy, Driedger also struggled to find playing time in the AHL, as Joey Daccord demanded the goal crease down the stretch and carried the Firebirds all the way to the Calder Cup Finals.
Was Daccord’s memorable performance—he had a 2.31 goals against average and .927 save percentage in 16 playoff games for the Firebirds—enough to earn him his first full-time NHL backup role?
Seattle showed loyalty to Daccord, a Group 6 unrestricted free agent, by signing him to a two-year, one-way contract worth $2.4 million this offseason. The front office clearly likes where he’s headed, so it could be Joey’s time.
Question 5: Did the Kraken improve this offseason?
If you’ve been listening to the Sound Of Hockey Podcast this summer, you’ll know that somebody (not naming names) on that show thinks Seattle regressed this offseason by not adding a high-end scorer to the top of the lineup.
But now that we’ve done the exercise of writing out the depth chart above, that unnamed podcast host (ok, it was me, I admit it!) is starting to come around to the idea that maybe the Kraken will be about as good as they were last season.
Seattle’s success in 2023-24 will hinge on health. With Burakovsky theoretically returning, the Kraken do look deep again, at least on paper. We’re also seeing young players not named Matty Beniers knocking on the door for the first time, which is encouraging for the longer-term outlook of the franchise. And if a guy like Kartye or Lind can snag a spot higher in the lineup, that could be what pushes a more skilled player down, again giving Seattle four scary lines.
The team proved that its top three lines can roll against any lineup in the league, and all those players are back. So, really, the only concern is whether the fourth line—likely composed of some combination of under-the-radar acquisitions and youngsters—can produce in a similar manner to last season’s bottom trio. Again, assuming good health, there’s some potential for improvement there.
What other questions do you have about the Kraken as they head toward camp? Let us know in the comments section.