Welcome to our latest Kraken Roundtable discussion, featuring John Barr, Curtis Isacke, and Darren Brown. In this discussion, we ask and answer a few pressing questions around training camp, which is now in full swing.
Who has the most to prove in training camp?
John Barr: I think there are several players to keep an eye on, but I will call out Chris Driedger here. Driedger played a handful of games at the end of last season after returning from his knee injury at the IIHF World Championship in 2022, but I do not believe he has fully demonstrated he is at 100 percent. There is no secret that he is in a battle for the backup goalie position through the pre-season. Even if he is outperformed by Joey Daccord, I am sure he would like to send a signal to the rest of the league so he gets claimed, should Seattle put him on waivers.
Curtis Isacke: Kailer Yamamoto is facing a “prove it” camp. A former first-round pick and 20-goal scorer, Yamamoto was skating on NHL superstar Leon Draisaitl’s wing just five months ago. Even so, two different NHL teams parted with cap space or other assets this past offseason to move him off their rosters. Edmonton parted with the signing rights to Klim Kostin to trade Yamamoto’s $3.1 million salary to Detroit. Then Detroit bought out the Washington native’s contract. As I wrote about after Seattle signed Yamamoto, the diminutive forward had become a niche utility player in Edmonton. He needs to shake that mindset and remind the NHL of the broad skill set that made him such a dynamic WHL winger. Otherwise he risks falling into a category of borderline AHL players.
Darren Brown: I’ll go with Kole Lind, because he’s at an inflection point in his career. Will he be an NHL player, or will he be one of those guys that always stands out in the AHL, but–for whatever reason–just never quite makes it at the highest level? As I wrote in my “storylines” article on Wednesday, Lind did everything the organization could have wanted him to do in Coachella Valley last season, yet he has not yet been rewarded with a full-time NHL gig. Based on his output with the Firebirds, one would think he is deserving of a legitimate shot. BUT… There is again competition in camp, and he will have to prove that he belongs on the Kraken more than at least one of Pierre-Edouard Bellemare, Shane Wright, or Tye Kartye.
Who stood out at rookie or main training camp so far?
Curtis: Vince Dunn and Ryker Evans stood out to me on day one of training camp for their ability to drive transition play in drills and during the training camp scrimmages. Each has advanced ability to scan the defense and exploit weaknesses for advance, and both looked spry on their skates to start camp. At a time when the players are still trying to get in sync on breakout and transition schemes, a one-man transition attack can be pretty appealing, and both Dunn and Evans looked at ease seizing those opportunities on Day 1.
What’s more, I thought Evans held up fairly well in one-on-one and two-on-two defensive zone drills. If he can handle net-front physicality and tighten up his defensive zone coverage just a bit, he’ll be NHL ready. If the first day of training camp was any indication, he’s close.
Darren: I wasn’t able to make Day 1 of the main training camp, so I’ll stick with what I saw from rookie camp. I have to agree with Curtis that Evans looked great on that stage against fellow youngsters, and I was also impressed by Ty Nelson. He was constantly competing with his long-time buddy, Shane Wright, in drills and was sticking with him step for step. His shot is also very heavy, unsurprising for the player that led the entire OHL in shots on goal last season.
John: I probably should not be surprised, but Eduard Sale impressed me. He is a really smooth and silky player out there and scored a couple goals that were frankly pretty nasty. I did not get those same vibes from him at development camp back in July, but at the time, he revealed that he had not been on the ice much before that camp.
Observations on Shane Wright?
John: During rookie camp, I felt Shane stood out as one of the better players but not distancing himself from everyone in the camp. Ironically, in the main camp scrimmage of Day 1, he stood out from his peers that have been drafted over the last three years. It is way too early to think he will make the opening-night roster, but he looks like he belongs with the big boys.
Curtis: John, I agree that he doesn’t look out of place. But there were moments during the scrimmage on Day 1 that reminded me of Wright’s struggles last training camp. In these moments, I can almost feel him thinking the game a little too hard–striving for the perfect play rather than simply trusting his ample instincts and skills to play loose. For example, at one point he got the puck at the point with space and time but looked to feather a pass down to the slot, which was easily swatted away for a defensive clear. I think the arrow is pointed up on Wright, but I’d like to see him take some weight off his shoulders and simplify a bit.
Darren: I observed that he looks very mature. He’s a full-grown adult now, despite still only being 19 years old. I did not have a physique like his at 19 (and I still do not).
What are you looking for in the first pre-season games?
Darren: I personally will be focused on those guys that are competing with one another for roster spots. Daniel Sprong demanded a contract and a roster spot with his play in pre-season last year, and I’ll be curious to see which of the bubble guys make similar statements for this season.
John: Of the recent draft picks, I want to see glimpses of belonging at the NHL level. For the handful of selections from the 2022 and 2023 draft classes that draw into a pre-season game, it is unrealistic to expect them to look NHL ready. In fact, there could be moments of them looking foolish or simply making a poor read on a play that is uncharacteristic of an NHL player. Those mistakes will happen, and what better place to make those mistakes than a pre-season game? But what I want to see is moments of making NHL plays.
It could be years before we see these guys in regular-season games, but I expect Eduard Sale, Ty Nelson, David Goyette, and maybe Carson Rehkopf to draw into a pre-season game or two over the next few weeks. Getting glimpses of them performing against current NHL players would be fun and should showcase a bit of what might be coming down the pike for the Kraken.
Curtis: You both covered areas I’ll be watching too, so I’ll answer a little more generally. After the first day of training camp, Kraken coach Dave Hakstol spoke about prioritizing team compete level early in camp. I think the same goes for the first pre-season game. What level is the team setting for itself? Is the team playing fast and disciplined? These things could be harbingers of a fast start–and it might be necessary to get off to a fast start if this team wants to replicate, or exceed, its success from last season.