While the Seattle Kraken registered 100 points in the standings last season and came up just one goal short of a Western Conference Finals appearance, their power play was not one of their strengths. Seattle converted on just 19.8 percent of its power-play chances, good for 21st in the NHL during the regular season and second-worst among teams that qualified for the playoffs. As Seattle gears up for the 2023-24 season, improving this area is a focus for its players and coaching staff.
“I feel like the power play has to be really good if you want to win,” said Eeli Tolvanen, whose big shot makes him a likely candidate to again factor into one of Seattle’s units this season.
On Wednesday, the team spent a solid 30 minutes of on-ice time practicing manpower advantage situations, and there were some intriguing new looks, both in terms of personnel and tactics. Here’s how the Kraken will look to get better on the power play.
With the roster still a work in progress, the Kraken had three units rotating during practice. Two of the units looked like true NHL power play units, while the third was made up of youngsters vying for roster spots (plus Kailer Yamamoto, who is a lock for the NHL).
Here’s how the groups looked:
Andre Burakovsky / Jared McCann / Eeli Tolvanen
Alex Wennberg / Jaden Schwartz / Oliver Bjorkstrand
Shane Wright / Tye Kartye / Kole Lind
Coach Dave Hakstol indicated there will be more competition this season for spots on the power play. “We’re going to shift some roles and give guys a little different look and a little different opportunity and try to push the envelope for the overall production level of the power play,” Hakstol said.
The first unit mentioned above brings the most intrigue, with Andre Burakovsky back from injury and ready to contribute, and Jared McCann shifted from the left halfwall into the central “bumper” position. Burakovsky’s return also displaces Matty Beniers from the right halfwall—where he spent a good chunk of his power-play time last season—and into a net-front role.
The Kraken found success early last season with McCann receiving passes at the top of the left circle, skating downhill, and firing off his lethal snapshot. But teams eventually got wise to Seattle’s plan of using McCann’s shot as its primary weapon, and that well dried up.
“I feel like last year, as the season went on, a lot of teams just started to sit on me when I was the climber guy there,” McCann said. “It’s a different look for me. I’ve never really played the bumper before, but I’m getting more and more comfortable as we go on. I’m just trying to find some openings, get some quick shots off.”
In that new position in the middle of the ice, McCann says his role is to support the puck all throughout the offensive zone and to be “a good out” for his teammates when they engage in wall battles.
As Seattle’s top goal scorer (40) from last season, McCann sees another potential advantage in moving to the bumper spot. “I’m ok with being a distraction,” he said. “Having guys sit on me in the middle of the ice, that means that opens up a lot of different areas for my linemates.”
“Better starts” needed
In thinking back to some of the pitfalls of Seattle’s power play last season, Hakstol pointed out that it was far too common for the Kraken to begin five-on-four situations without the puck. They would work hard to draw a penalty, then come out for an offensive-zone face-off and lose the draw. That meant the puck would immediately be sent the length of the ice, killing dozens of precious seconds while Seattle lugged it back up through the neutral zone.
“That’s an area that brings you momentum right away,” Hakstol said. “Our entries are not a problem. We’ve been very good at getting in the zone and getting set up, but when you have to [chase the puck to your zone] too often at the start of a two-minute power play, you’re giving momentum away right away.”
Exactly how Seattle improves at starting with the puck remains to be seen. Face-offs in general were a big problem for the Kraken last season, and while Pierre-Edouard Bellemare was signed to help in this area, he is not expected to factor into the power play. We do know this is something Beniers has been trying to improve, and he showed progress by winning 12 of his 18 draws in Monday’s split-squad game against Calgary. Still, this will be a question mark heading into the season.
The Andre Burakovsky effect
Speaking of zone entries, those should only get better with Burakovsky pitching in. When healthy, he was Seattle’s best player at carrying the puck through the neutral zone and over the blue line, where penalty killers routinely set up shop and try to force dump-ins or turnovers.
“I talked about our entries, and our entries have been pretty good,” Hakstol said. “But for Burky, that’s one area where he’s— it’s a huge strength of his, so he’ll bring that, as well as other things in the zone.”
McCann agreed with Hakstol on how Burakovsky can help. “He’s another threat out there for us,” McCann said. “He’s obviously got a lot of skill, great shot, he can make plays, but he’s so fast. He makes our breakouts look amazing, right? Like, he’s just at full speed, and as a defender, you see that coming at you, you’re just gonna back off.”
While most of the power-play drills Wednesday were done entirely within the offensive zone, the Kraken did spend a few minutes practicing special teams on the full length of the ice. Burakovsky showed off his zone-entry skills on one play by carrying the puck himself all the way through the neutral zone, dangling around a defender at the blue line, and immediately getting the power play set up in the offensive zone, entirely on his own. That is a skill the Kraken sorely missed in the second half of last season.
Familiarity, mixed with new tactics
A lack of familiarity with one another was an easy excuse for Seattle’s players in the club’s inaugural season. As the second year wore on, that became less of a crutch for the Kraken on the power play, yet the team still struggled in that area. Now, entering the team’s third year, that should be a thing of the past.
“I feel like last year in the playoffs, too, you get to know the guys and you know where they want to be and where they’re gonna go,” Tolvanen said. “[More familiarity is] gonna be huge, and with the power play, you talk with the guys in the locker room before the games and during the games. If there’s a scrambled puck in the corner, you know this guy’s going to be in the middle or that guy’s going to be behind the net or whatever.”
We did see a glimpse of that chemistry brewing Friday, when McCann passed to Beniers at the right post, and Beniers one-touched the puck across the crease to Tolvanen for a wide-open, easy goal. That was a play we didn’t recall seeing executed often last season, as Seattle became too predictable and stationary down the stretch.
With an added focus on the manpower advantage this season, will we see more creativity and movement like this from the Kraken? If so, and if the new personnel deployments work, Seattle could have significant improvement in this area.
John Hayden injured?
Kraken training camp was split into two groups Wednesday, with the players who appear to be destined for the AHL skating on the second sheet. Whether it means he’s headed to Coachella Valley or not, John Hayden was one of the players on Rink 2.
We didn’t see exactly what happened, but we heard a crash into the boards, then Hayden hunched over and gliding across the ice in pain. A member of the team’s medical staff hustled over to help him, and before Hayden exited the ice, he banged his stick angrily against the boards three times.
Remember, Hayden, who is still battling for an NHL roster spot, suffered a severe leg injury in a fight with Klim Kostin on March 18. That kept him out for the remainder of the 2022-23 regular season and much of the playoffs, but he returned in time to help the Firebirds reach the Calder Cup Finals.
Hakstol confirmed after Wednesday’s practice that Hayden was unavailable for the rest of the skate, but he did not have an update on Hayden’s availability for Thursday or beyond.
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