The Seattle Kraken season opener is today! Kraken hockey is officially back! Initial rosters have been published, final practice skates completed, and power-play scheme adjustments confirmed. It’s time for the games to count for real. We’re feeling it and hope you are too.
We thought it would be a good idea to convene the team and lock ourselves in on takes that will almost certainly age like a fine wine. It’s time for another “Sound Table” discussion. (Get it? Yeah, I’ll see myself out. Except I can’t because I have to participate. Also, that’s officially what we’re calling these moving forward.)
First goal of the season
Curtis Isacke: Let’s start things off on a light note. I’m going to steal this one from the Sound Of Hockey Discord. Who scores the first goal this season for the Seattle Kraken? Darren, the goalies are on the board for you.
Darren Brown: Thank you for the nudge, Curtis. While it wouldn’t shock me to see Joey Daccord pot one at some point this season, it feels unlikely that he would have an empty-net scenario before any Kraken skaters score. Of course, he theoretically could score with an opposing goaltender in net, but I just don’t see it. So, instead, I’ll go with Eeli Tolvanen. He’s been blasting away, so why not him? He did score thrice in preseason.
John Barr: I am going way off the board and will go with Kailer Yamamoto. It looks like he will be in the lineup in this first game against Vegas, and he should get power play time. He also scored thrice in preseason.
Curtis: Tolvanen was going to be my pick, Darren. I’ll look elsewhere, but not too far, keeping it among “the brothers” with Oliver Bjorkstrand.
Josh Horton: How about Andre Burakovsky coming off injury and scoring the team’s first goal? It would make a good story.
Most improved player or aspect of the team
Curtis Isacke: OK, let’s kick off the real questions on another high note. What areas are you optimistic about or just plain excited to see? John, let’s go to you first.
John: Defense. It’s not the most exciting area to focus on, and the team was relatively solid last season. But there was still room for improvement, and I feel we are underselling the impact newcomers Pierre-Edouard Bellemare and Brian Dumoulin will have. A better defensive team should help out the goalies as well.
Darren: Since I wrote a whole story about the things the Kraken are doing to improve this area, I’m going to take the obvious one and say the power play should be better. Hakstol agreed with this Tuesday at morning skate and said, “Everybody wants to crap all over our power play from last year,” with his general sentiment being that there were some positive stretches, but also a lot of dry spells.
I’ve loved the creativity Seattle has shown in preseason, and I especially like Jared McCann in the central bumper spot. Not doing any crapping here, but I do hope to see fewer and shorter dry spells in 2023-24.
Curtis: For the second straight question, I’ll go to Bjorkstrand. After last season, Bjorkstrand was very honest saying he didn’t think he started the year with the necessary focus to play his best. I think he rights those problems from last year and tallies about 25 goals and 55 points (second-best career marks in both categories) in his second Kraken season, while also improving his production in the defensive zone.
Josh: The power play is definitely the low-hanging fruit here, but it really stands out to me. Darren’s comments above about how it looks visually inspires some hope, but changes are definitely needed, especially watching Seattle’s power play flounder at times last postseason.
Prospect you’re most interested to watch
Curtis: Is there a player not on the initial 22 man roster that has your eye this year? Why?
I’ll start this one. With an eye toward this season’s Kraken team, I’ll say Ryker Evans. I came away from camp this year believing his athleticism and mobility are unparalleled among Seattle defensemen, aside from Vince Dunn. His pure skills in transition and at the offensive blue line are probably better than any on the current Kraken roster.
In my viewings last year I thought his absolute ceiling was a second-unit power play quarterback and fourth defenseman; the type you’d really like to have on your third pair, but is a bit concerning on your second pair. After his training camp showing, I feel fairly confident he can be a second-pairing player and man a top PP unit. He just needs to iron out some rash defensive-zone decision-making, and he’ll be ready.
Darren: You’re right, Curtis, all Kraken-fan eyes should be on how Evans performs in the early part of this season in Coachella Valley, because he is right there. I do feel a little ashamed that I predicted him making the team out of training camp, since… well… he didn’t, but Hakstol had to at least be thinking about keeping him.
Evans isn’t my pick, though, since choosing the same guy just isn’t all that interesting of a move for a Sound Table discussion. Instead, I’ll say I’m keeping tabs on David Goyette. He really impressed me in the split-squad game he played against Calgary on Sept. 25. He’s a smooth skater with good instincts, a shot, and playmaking abilities. He was named captain of the Sudbury Wolves upon his return to the OHL, and after scoring 92 points in 63 games last season, the second-round pick from 2022 is primed for a monster 19-year-old season. Goyette already has eight points in five junior games.
John: The most shocking thing in this article might be that Curtis talked about prospects and it wasn’t 2000 words long. We love him for it and imagine we will hear plenty about Coachella Valley all season. That said, speaking of Coachella… I am going to call out Ryan Winterton as my prospect to watch. Since being drafted, this will be the first start of a season in which he is healthy. When healthy in the OHL, he lit it up, including last season’s playoffs. Winterton had 13 goals and 29 points in those playoffs, which led the league in both of those categories. He looks hungry and excited to start his pro career. I would not be surprised if he is a second-half call-up if the Kraken face any injuries.
Josh: I’m going to be keeping a keen eye on what Jagger Firkus does in what will almost certainly be his final WHL season. The Moose Jaw Warriors are stacked with talent, including linemate and Penguins first-round pick Braden Yager, and they appear to be contenders for the Memorial Cup in a wide open WHL Eastern Conference.
Through just five games, Firkus has 10 points – a 136-point pace. That’ll do!
Any second guessing from the 2023 offseason
Curtis: Put on your general manager hat. What move would you have made in the offseason that would have gone in a different direction from one taken by Ron Francis and his front office? John, I’ll send it to you first.
John: Not really. It’s tough to look at the departures and the acquisitions and definitively say, “They got better.” That is ok in my book. Small as they were, the moves give the Kraken a lot of cap flexibility to add if the situation calls for it.
Darren: It’s not really a move they made, but one they didn’t make. I was hoping all summer for a Burakovsky- or Bjorkstrand-esque move to bolster the top of the lineup, but it never came. I’ve come to live with this and still think it’s possible the Kraken exceed what they did last season, but I complained about the lack of a splash all summer, so why stop now?
Josh: I don’t have many second thoughts on the offseason – it seemed like they came in with a plan to fill minor holes on the roster and accomplished that goal. I will parrot Darren’s sentiment about adding some more scoring punch to bolster an already balanced lineup. I thought that could be a way to significantly elevate Seattle’s roster, but ultimately that didn’t materialize for whatever reason.
Curtis: I understand the theory behind signing Brian Dumoulin, but weighing the value he can deliver at this point against a handful of forwards who could have been had for the same or less (e.g., Evan Rodrigues, Pius Suter, or, to a lesser extent, Sam Lafferty), I would have preferred to invest in a bottom-six center instead. I also would have considered keeping the cap space open. Cheaper (e.g., Mike Reilly) or internal options on the blue line could have slotted in the same third-line role Dumoulin projects to fill at this point. The signing also took them out of the running for a bigger splash move like Darren had in mind.
Award the team MVP
Curtis: John, Darren, and I discussed who we thought might lead the team in scoring during the the 2023-24 season on the Sound Of Hockey Podcast. (John’s surprise choice actually led the team in preseason scoring. Foreshadowing? Or did John think he was picking the preseason leading scorer?) Today, we want to know who the team’s most valuable player will be? Who contributes the most to winning this year, Darren?
Darren: I’ll do a little zag to the zig you’re expecting me to take and say Bjorkstrand. After a very slow start to his first season in Seattle, he found chemistry with Yanni Gourde and Tolvanen, and now he gets to start the season playing with those guys. I expect him to be a key piece in potential Kraken success this season.
I’m calling it now, and I’m going even higher with my estimate than the one Curtis made earlier: Bjorkstrand will score 30 goals for the first time in his career. That may not lead the team–hopefully it doesn’t–but his all-around game will make him the most important contributor.
John: I am going to go with Burakovsky. He was the Kraken leader in points at the time of his injury, and I have no reason to think he won’t put up a similar pace for a full season. That’s it. Burakovsky. Final answer.
Curtis: Many credit the depth scoring and a stabilized situation in goal for the turnaround in the standings from Kraken year one to year two. Those improvements were important, no doubt. But, similarly important was the emergence of Vince Dunn as a viable No. 1 defenseman. During the inaugural season, Dunn’s highlights were almost equally balanced by frustrating mistakes. That changed in year two, a season in which Dunn earned every bit of his new $7.35 million AAV contract. If the Kraken are going to be back in playoff contention in 2023-24, it’s going to be because Dunn again props up the offense and transition play from the blue line. No other Kraken defender brings Dunn’s blend of skills. (I’m high on Evans, but I don’t think he’s quite ready yet.) Getting optimistic, I’ll name Dunn as the most valuable Kraken.
Josh: For me, if Seattle is going to take the next step as a franchise, its foundational young player must take a similar step. I expect Matty Beniers to take a leap forward offensively this year, to go along with all of the other terrific things he does on defense and away from the puck, and be the heart and soul of this Seattle team.
Predict the Kraken season
Curtis: Here is the big one. Give us your point total for the team, Seattle’s final place in the Pacific Division standings, and make a prediction on whether the team makes the playoffs, and, if so, how far they go.
I’ll take the heat first. I don’t think this team has quite enough offensive firepower to reliably score with individual skill plays through the neutral zone or once set up in the offensive end, and–although I think it will improve, Darren, as you said earlier–it still seems unlikely to me that the power play will be a true strength. I feel confident projecting Jared McCann as a 30-plus-goal scorer, deploying an elite shot across all gameplay situations. Setting aside McCann, though, it’s difficult to see volume scoring. They’ll score at a good clip based of their pace, discipline, and depth, but I don’t expect them to lead the league in five-on-five scoring again.
All of this makes me think they’re more of a 90-point team than last year’s 100-point unit. If a few breaks go their way and they add a piece or two at the trade deadline, I could see a playoff push, but I’ll project them to finish just outside the playoff field: fifth in the Pacific, falling just behind Calgary for a year.
See why I wanted to go first? Let’s round things out with a little more optimism, shall we, Darren?
Darren: How did you know I would be optimistic, Curtis? Like I said, I see the team marginally improving over last season. I’m hopeful the tinkering done by Francis brings better team defense, and to me, the biggest thing is having Burakovsky and Tolvanen both in the lineup for (hopefully) the full season. Remember, there wasn’t much overlap there in 2022-23. Tolvanen played his first game with Seattle on Jan. 1, and Burakovsky played hurt for a while, then suffered his season-ending groin tear on Feb. 7.
If Seattle has relatively good health, the team is deeper than it was for almost all of last season. I also think Philipp Grubauer’s playoff success will help him get out to a better start to this season. So, I’ll say the Kraken will have 105 points and finish third in the Pacific behind Edmonton and Vegas. Give me the “exacta box” bet on those two teams, though, as I don’t want to pick first and second place. Seattle will be a few points ahead of Los Angeles and a few more points ahead of Calgary.
John: Between Daniel Sprong, Ryan Donato, and Morgan Geekie, 44 goals left the team, so the question is can a full season of Tolvanen and Burakovsky plus contributions from Yamamoto and Tye Kartye backfill for those goals? Probably not, but those guys should be able to make up a lot of the difference. So I think the team is well positioned to return to the playoffs, and I say they do it. Let’s go with 101 points and second in the Pacific.
Josh: Seattle will finish third in the Pacific. The Oilers and Golden Knights are too powerful to overcome, but the Kings, who signaled they are trying to contend by trading for Pierre-Luc Dubois, may experience some growing pains both with new lineup additions and in net. Ultimately, I expect Seattle to be competitive in a really good Pacific Division, but finishing third leads to a first-round showdown with Edmonton or Vegas, and I’m not confident Seattle has the firepower to overcome either of those teams.