Feel that? The air seems a little fresher than it has the last couple months, right? It’s crisper, cooler, and oddly more… exciting? Do you know what that is?
[Clears throat, takes big deep breath, shouts]: “That’s Kraken hockey, baby!”
The boys are officially back for their third season, and after several weeks of unofficial “captain’s practices” and two days of rookie camp, the real deal training camp begins Thursday.
The opening of camp also marks the start of true roster competition, and while most of the group is back from 2022-23, including the team’s top 10 forwards, top five defensemen, and top goaltender, there are some interesting storylines to watch over the coming weeks.
Let’s dig into those, shall we?
Veterans versus youngsters
Seattle only tinkered with its forward lineup this offseason, replacing departed fourth-line forwards Morgan Geekie, Ryan Donato, and Daniel Sprong with Pierre-Edouard Bellemare, Kailer Yamamoto, and Devin Shore. Where those newcomers slot in will make the most interesting storylines to watch, because there are also three (relatively) young forwards in Shane Wright, Kole Lind, and Tye Kartye who will be battling for spots on the Kraken.
Yamamoto is a lock to make the team. Though he’s only 24 years old, this will be his seventh NHL season (he played nine games with the Oilers in 2017-18 before being returned to the WHL’s Spokane Chiefs). Out of the harsh media environment that is Edmonton, Yamamoto is just one year removed from a 20-goal campaign in 2021-22. We would not be surprised to see a resurgence from him this season with his “hometown” club.
Shore is a depth acquisition and on a two-way contract. He will need to dazzle in pre-season to get an NHL roster spot. He did play 47 games for the Oilers last season, but his signing screams veteran AHL presence with the opportunity to fill in when injuries inevitably happen at the NHL level. The 29-year-old has plenty of experience playing center, though, which is an area of need for Seattle.
Of the veteran players mentioned, Bellemare will be the most interesting case to monitor. With 660 career games under his belt, the 38-year-old brings plenty of NHL experience to the dressing room. But we don’t feel his spot on the team is guaranteed entering camp.
Though he isn’t new to the organization, we should also include John Hayden in the mix of veterans battling for NHL spots. Hayden performed well in a fourth-line role before getting injured against the Oilers last season. He is a proven NHLer, a right-shot forward that can play center, and he brings a physical element the team otherwise lacks.
Even though Lind is the same age as Yamamoto, we still are including him in this “youngsters” group because he’s never broken through as a full-timer NHLer. The most experience he got was in Seattle’s inaugural season, when he played 23 games with the Kraken and scored two goals and six assists.
If Lind was disappointed to be sent to the AHL last season, it didn’t show in his performance there. Instead, he had an enormous season with 30 goals and 32 assists in 72 regular-season games for Coachella Valley, then led the Firebirds to the Calder Cup Finals with a whopping 31 points in 26 playoff games. He is also the only one of the Wright/Kartye/Lind trio that requires waivers to get back to Coachella this season, so Seattle would have to expose him if they want to put him back in the AHL.
When last season ended, we assumed with nearly 100-percent certainty Kartye would be on the Kraken out of this season’s camp. Now, we’re slightly less sure, only because of the offseason signings made by Seattle. Though he was one of the heroes of the Stanley Cup Playoffs and the 2022-23 AHL rookie of the year, an underwhelming performance in pre-season and good health among Kraken forwards could still mean Kartye starts the year in Palm Desert. If the team views him as an extra, it will make more sense to let him keep developing with the Firebirds. Still, we’re confident the Kraken have high hopes for Kartye to contribute at the NHL level this season.
And what of the Kraken’s No. 1 prospect, Shane Wright? Well, he has made huge strides in his development over the past four months and looked like a full-grown pro athlete at rookie camp this week. Though it does seem he will be allowed to play in the AHL if he doesn’t make the Kraken out of camp, he has maintained that he is focused on making the NHL roster, and the team seems to want to keep him. But like with Kartye, there’s no sense in keeping Wright if it means he will be watching from the press box most nights.
While most of the attention will be on the forwards, there is some competition for the last blue line spot(s) as well. Cale Fleury spent most of last season as a healthy scratch, but the team resisted putting him on waivers. Meanwhile, Jaycob Megna was acquired before the trade deadline from San Jose but only played six games for the Kraken. Carson Soucy got replaced by Brian Dumoulin this offseason, so assuming good health and that the team keeps only one extra defenseman, Megna and Fleury will likely be fighting for the last spot.
And we can’t forget about high-flying prospect Ryker Evans. We don’t *expect* Evans to make the Kraken immediately, but he should be near the top of the list to earn a call-up if an injury replacement is needed in season.
Andre Burakovsky set to return
It’s easy to forget that Andre Burakovsky was Seattle’s leading scorer through the All-Star break last season. The team managed without him after he tore his groin, but there was an obvious offensive gap that appeared, especially on the power play.
Burakovsky has been back on the ice for captain’s practices and is expected to be a full participant in camp. His performance will be worth monitoring.
Eyes on the goal crease
The playoffs were a positive experience for Philipp Grubauer, who looked like he had finally put his Kraken struggles behind him. It will be interesting to see what kind of start he gets out to this pre-season, but the real story in the goal crease is determining who will serve as his backup.
Chris Driedger is entering the final year of his three-year, $10.5 million contract. He returned to full health last season after tearing his ACL in the 2022 IIHF World Championship, but Martin Jones had taken his spot as the Seattle backup. So, Driedger got sent to Coachella Valley, only to find that Joey Daccord had full control over the Firebirds’ net. Daccord had a phenomenal playoff run and carried his squad to the finals, coming up one game short of a championship.
The Kraken re-signed Daccord for two years this offseason. Is this the year Daccord gets a chance as a full-time NHL goalie?
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