In the split-squad game Monday, we were impressed by several of the young Kraken players that were in the lineup against the Calgary Flames. That night, the roster for the game played in Seattle was almost a 50-50 split between veterans and guys that had no shot at making the NHL roster this season. Against the Canucks on Thursday, Seattle dressed a more veteran-heavy group, yet it was still a couple of young players that caught our attention.
In the end, it was one of last season’s mainstays, Eeli Tolvanen, who stole the show with two third-period goals that gave Seattle the win.
Here are our Three Takeaways from a very positive 3-1 preseason Kraken win over the Canucks.
Takeaway #1 (Darren) – Pesky Jacob Melanson
A guy that continues to fly under the proverbial radar as a prospect, Jacob Melanson made his presence known in a lot of ways Thursday. First, he opened the scoring in the game by finding a sliver of quiet ice in the high slot at 9:25 of the first period. After linemate Shane Wright did the hard work to get his own rebound and make a perfect blind pass, the 20-year-old Melanson made no mistake with a yawning cage.
It was Melanson’s first goal at the NHL level, though being that it was in the pre-season, we can’t really call it his “first career goal.” Still, it had to be a memorable moment for the young man, who was drafted in the fifth round in 2021 and seems to be on the right track toward one day cracking the NHL.
It wasn’t just the goal that made Melanson stand out Thursday. He was visibly doing everything he could to get under the skin of Canucks players, and it seemed to work. Multiple times, he whacked away at goalie Thatcher Demko, causing post-whistle anger hugs. Ian Cole also took a run at Melanson in the neutral zone, and Melanson responded with a solid slash across the backs of Cole’s legs. It was classic pest behavior and the kind of gritty play that can give a young player a leg up against his peers.
Coach Dave Hakstol had a mix of praise and constructive criticism for Melanson after the game. “Mel got off to a good start,” Hakstol said. “He’s a hard-working guy that finally got into a game, and they knew he was on the ice, right? He went out and got to the net, stirred things up a little bit, played hard, played physical. That was a good start for him. It tailed off a little bit through the second and third period, and that’s what you learn as a young guy.”
Melanson is destined for Coachella Valley this season, but for most young players, the goal in training camp is to leave an impression. He did that Thursday.
Takeaway #2 (John) – the lore of Ryker Evans continues to grow
We got a real taste Thursday of what Ryker Evans brings to the table. He showed great vision and hands as he danced around forwards challenging him at the offensive blue line. Evans logged 22:16 of ice time, second only to Jamie Oleksiak, who had 22:38. Vancouver iced a much better squad than either of the Calgary split squads from Monday, so it was nice to see Evans stand out versus a lot of NHL regulars.
Like Melanson, Evans received praise from Hakstol after the game. “Ryker’s game tonight with the puck on their half of the ice was outstanding,” Hakstol said. That’s about as complimentary as Seattle’s bench boss gets.
The lore of Ryker Evans has been brewing for a couple years since he was selected as the Kraken’s second-round draft pick in 2021. At the time, draft analysts were critical of the selection, but ever since then, Evans has only exceeded expectations. The 21-year-old left defenseman had a fantastic campaign in Coachella Valley last season with 44 points in 71 regular-season games. There’s no spot for him on the Kraken blue line, so he is still expected to start 2023-24 with the AHL club. But if one of the top six defensemen goes down with an injury, expect Ryker to be first on the list to get the call-up to the big squad.
Worth noting, Hakstol deployed Evans on his off-hand side last night, and he still looked comfortable and confident. This kid can play.
Takeaway #3 (Curtis) – Tolvanen shines on reunited Gourde line
Those players stuck out to me too, John and Darren. I found my eye returning to Evans, in particular, throughout this one.
Hard to ignore, though, the multi-goal night posted by Eeli Tolvanen. At 3:55 of the third period, and with Seattle on the power play, Tolvanen scored with a patient and accurate wrist shot that beat Demko and gave Seattle a 2-1 lead.
Just as impressive was the overall operation of the reunited “Gourde line” from the 2022-23 season, which matched Tolvanen with Yanni Gourde and Oliver Bjorkstrand. The trio skated as a line in the first and third periods and looked like they hadn’t missed a beat.
“It felt really good,” Tolvanen said. “It’s fun to play with those two. I think the chemistry is there from last year and … we’ve been talking a lot during the camp too… Hopefully we can start the season [together] too.”
The three forwards worked in perfect harmony to produce the final goal of the evening with a beautiful tic-tac-toe connection leading to a Tolvanen one-timer tap in at 15:54 of the third period.
“They read off each other really well,” Hakstol said of the group. “[T]hey’ve still got work to do to get to regular-season level, but you see the chemistry.”
As we discussed on the Sound Of Hockey Podcast, Tolvanen and Bjorkstrand appear to be two prime candidates to increase their scoring relative to their 2022-23 levels. That should compensate for the loss of players like Daniel Sprong and Ryan Donato. On this night, they looked up to the challenge.
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