It’s here! It’s here! It’s finally here [insert “Michael Scott ‘It’s happening!’” gif]! The first-ever Seattle Kraken training camp is upon us. Thursday morning, Seattle’s players take the ice at the Kraken Community Iceplex to practice in a split-squad format with their coaches present and calling the shots for the first time.
There will be a lot of excitement over the next few weeks as we build closer and closer to opening night in Vegas on Oct. 12. But before that day comes, a lot of questions need to be answered for Seattle.
The most common debates during just about every NHL training camp ever have revolved around which bubble players will break camp with their respective big-league teams and which players will instead be put on waivers and/or assigned to the AHL.
Being that we’ve never seen this group play together, there may be more question marks around this particular roster than we will ever see again. And with 44 total players in camp, there are a lot of decisions that will need to be made by head coach Dave Hakstol and his staff to get the group down to 23 in the next three weeks.
Trying to keep track of all the players and their performances could make your head spin, so we’re going to whittle this down to help you focus on a few key battles in the first Seattle Kraken training camp.
Here are the players that we are certain have a spot on the team. Some combination of Jaden Schwartz, Alex Wennberg, Jordan Eberle, Jared McCann, Yanni Gourde, and probably Calle Jarnkrok will make up the scoring lines, though Gourde will miss time as he continues to recover from shoulder surgery.
Beyond those six, there are Brandon Tanev, Joonas Donskoi, Marcus Johansson, and Mason Appleton who clearly will play significant roles, though probably not in the top six.
On the blue line, the obvious top pairings will be made up of Mark Giordano, Adam Larsson, Vince Dunn, and Jamie Oleksiak.
We’re calling this group “the probables,” because they’re all bona fide NHL players, so we fully expect them to end up with spots on the roster. The thing about this group is that it isn’t totally clear who from this lot will dress each night and who will watch from the press box.
Colin Blackwell — 28 years old — Salary $725K in NHL or AHL. Blackwell emerged as a mainstay in the New York Rangers lineup last season, playing 47 of 56 games, registering 22 points and as many as 19 minutes of ice time on a given night.
Ryan Donato— 25 years old — $750K in NHL or AHL. We argued internally about which category Donato should be in here. We’re leaving him as a probable, though a case could be made that both he and Riley Sheahan are battling for a roster spot. Donato has played 50, 62, and 56 games respectively the last three seasons. His minutes have tended to dwindle as those seasons have worn on, and he’s now on his fourth NHL team, but he is clearly an NHL player at this point. With a good opportunity skating alongside good players, he should produce offensively.
Riley Sheahan — 29 years old — $850K in NHL or AHL. Sheahan is a classic depth veteran forward and has not been to the AHL since 2013-14. He will grind it out and provide energy and can likely take nights off on occasion without issue.
Donato and Sheahan are in similar boats here, so one could imagine a world in which they are battling one another for a spot in the lineup. Still, we believe they will both be on the roster when camp ends.
Carson Soucy — 27 years old — $2.75 million in NHL or AHL. Soucy is a very good defenseman, who can slide up to one of the top pairings in case of injury. He will not spend much time in the press box, unless the other two in this category are doing remarkable things.
Haydn Fleury — 25 years old — $1.3 million in NHL or AHL. He also hasn’t been to the AHL since 2018-19 and was one of the players the Kraken trotted out at the Expansion Draft, so they clearly expect him in the lineup regularly. He played north of 20 minutes most nights toward the end of last season in Anaheim.
Jeremy Lauzon — 24 years old — $850K in NHL or AHL. His presence on the roster is what makes things murky for the bottom pairing. Lauzon was very well respected on a very good Boston Bruins team last season, logging as many as 25 minutes of ice time. He will be afforded some opportunities to play.
That brings us to “the battlers,” those players that are fighting for a spot on the NHL roster when the Kraken break training camp in October. Based on our math—assuming that Gourde isn’t included on the initial 23-man roster and that we are correct with all of our above predictions—there are two spots left to fill. “The battlers” are the players that have a chance to fill those spots but will have to really perform well these next three weeks.
Here’s a curveball to consider, though. Let’s also assume that everyone previously mentioned (except Gourde) stays healthy all the way through to opening night. It generally makes more sense to carry two extra forwards and one extra defenseman, and we’ve listed seven defensemen above, so there is already going to be an odd man out from that group.
Based on this logic, unless one of those seven defensemen gets injured, anyone listed on the blue line below is likely destined to start the season in Charlotte. Still, they need to make a lasting impression, and nothing is written in stone, so these guys will all be competing hard regardless of their position.
Morgan Geekie— 23 years old — $750K in NHL, $75K in AHL. Geekie cracked Carolina’s lineup more consistently last year, playing 36 games at the NHL level. But on a deep roster, he found himself in a fourth-line role, which really doesn’t suit his game. He’s still developing, but we think he will reach a point soon where his performance will command bigger minutes.
Alex True — 24 years old — $750K in NHL, $200K in AHL. The former Seattle Thunderbird has 19 career NHL games under his belt with the San Jose Sharks. He’s been a consistent contributor at the AHL level, but has yet to get a real shot in the NHL.
Nathan Bastian — 23 years old — $825K in NHL or AHL. Bastian was impressive as a youngster in the New Jersey Devils organization and earned 41 games with the big club last year while avoiding the AHL. He only notched 10 points, though, and played very few minutes on the nights he dressed toward the end of the season.
Carsen Twarynski — 23 years old — $750K in NHL, $100K in AHL. He has 22 games under his belt with the Philadelphia Flyers, but it feels like a bit of a long shot that he’ll make the team over Geekie or Bastian. He will need to really bring it to stick with the Kraken.
Kole Lind — 22 years old — $874K in NHL, $75K in AHL. Lind got a seven-game cup of coffee with the Canucks last season and did not record a point, but he is a highly regarded prospect who is considered to be on the cusp.
Will Borgen — 24 years old — $900K in NHL or AHL. Borgen only has 14 NHL games under his belt, but he did become a regular at the end of last season for Buffalo. The one-way contract makes it more financially painful for Seattle to send him to the AHL.
Cale Fleury — 22 years old — $750K in NHL, $75K in AHL. The younger Fleury is just one year removed from playing an impressive 41 games as a rookie with the Montreal Canadiens.
Dennis Cholowski — 23 years old — $900K in NHL, $130 in AHL. He was a well-regarded prospect for the Red Wings, and split time between Detroit and Grand Rapids each of the last three seasons. In all, he has 104 career NHL games and 27 points.
Gustav Olofsson — 26 years old — $750K in NHL, $200K in AHL. Once a touted prospect with Minnesota, Olofsson’s career was derailed by injuries. He has 59 career NHL games but hasn’t been in the show since 2019-20 when he played three games for the Canadiens.
Connor Carrick — 27 years old — $800K in NHL, $350K in AHL. Everybody seems to love Carrick. He has 241 career NHL games, but he’s split time between the AHL and NHL the last three seasons.
Much like line projections, these training camp conversations always need to be taken with a grain of salt. Seattle could play one game, have an injury, and then need to call a guy up that doesn’t make the initial roster out of camp, rendering all of our impassioned debating moot. Still, it makes for some fun competition over these next few weeks as players look to solidify roles with the inaugural Kraken team.
Which bubble players make your initial roster?
Darren Brown is the Chief Content Officer at Sound Of Hockey and the host, producer, and editor of the Sound Of Hockey Podcast. He is an inconsistent beer league goalie who believes that five players have to make a mistake before the puck gets to him. Follow him on Twitter @DarrenFunBrown or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
SEATTLE – Monday night the ice at the Kraken Community Iceplex’s Starbucks Rink was filled with local beer league and amateur adult skaters. Nine of them were goalies. This wasn’t a rec league game or a practice but rather an evaluation skate held by the Seattle Kraken as they searched for a few goalies to serve as the team’s emergency backups during the season.
It was a chance for these nine netminders to live out childhood dreams of the big leagues.
The emergency back-up goalie (EBUG) is a unique feature to NHL hockey. No other sport sets up a situation where a guy off the street can step into a regular season game. If all your quarterbacks get hurt in the same NFL game you can’t call to the press box for a former high school star to step in.
In the NHL, you can do that exact thing if both your goalies go down during the same game.
“It’s about community,” Kraken director of hockey strategy and research Alexandra Mandrycky said of Monday’s skate.
Mandrycky organized the event by reaching out to the local hockey community last week to identify some goalies that might fit the bill. Emails went out Friday for a Monday try out.
It was a quick turnaround but didn’t assuage the excitement of the invitees.
“It was a totally surreal email that came out of the blue,” EBUG hopeful Tyler Zetting, 32, said. “I’m finishing up work, checking my email and I see that email come through and it’s just, you know, it’s like you blackout. And then you come back and it’s honestly almost tears.”
Why do the Kraken need an EBUG?
The NHL requires its clubs to have an emergency back-up in attendance at every home game just in case either team loses both of its goalies to injury or illness.
While the likelihood of an EBUG having to suit up and get into the game is extremely low, the EBUG has an interesting history in the NHL. On several occasions there have been games with one goalie injury which forces the emergency backup to get dressed and sit on the bench.
Getting a great view of the game is one thing, but actually playing is another.
In 2018 the Chicago Blackhawks saw starter Anton Forsberg get hurt during warmups. His backup, Collin Delia, would then get injured in the third period leaving the team with no healthy goalies. In stepped 36-year-old accountant Scott Foster. The EBUG played 14 minutes that night and made seven saves without allowing a goal to the Winnipeg Jets.
Foster would be outdone in 2020 when 42-year-old Zamboni driver David Ayres served as the EBUG in Toronto as the Maple Leafs hosted the Carolina Hurricanes. The Hurricanes built a 3-1 lead but suffered injuries to both James Reimer and Petr Mrazek. Ayres entered the game midway through the second period, and while he gave up goals on the first two shots he faced, he made the next eight saves and became the oldest goalie to record a win in his NHL debut.
Ayres became an instant celebrity after the win and a hero to beer league goalies everywhere.
“That was great,” 41-year-old goalie Tom Marcella said Monday. “I have a Google alert for EBUG so I get it every time they just get someone to dress up and sit in the locker room. The times they get on the ice, it’s pretty hysterical.”
Ayres enjoyed his 15 minutes of fame but some in the league didn’t like the optics. The league would discuss the EBUG policy during league meetings but ultimately decided it was such a rare occasion that the rule didn’t warrant any changes.
How the Kraken evaluated their EBUG invitees
Marcella and his fellow goalies were not alone on the ice Monday. Kraken goalie coach Andrew Allen was skating and evaluating the talent pool. The team also invited a group of 20 skaters, made up of men and women who play locally to take shots on the prospective goalies.
The NHL does not allow professional or former professionals to serve as an EBUG, so the nine goalies on the ice were guys whose ‘careers’ ended prior to making it to the pro ranks, and they came in all shapes and sizes.
“If you were an ex-NHL goalie living in Seattle, you could not be our main backup emergency at the game,” Mandrycky added. “A lot of these guys have some junior experience. These goalies are never going to be NHL goalies or at the AHL level or the ECHL level. If they were, they would be in a different profession right now. Ultimately, we’re just looking for someone who is willing and will have a good attitude about stepping in.”
The evaluation started with Allen putting the nine hopefuls through some agility drills to see how mobile and quick they are. Some were more mobile and quick than others. That was followed by the skaters firing shots at them from about ten feet away, one at a time.
To finish off the night the group played an informal three-on-three cross-ice game. The action was non-stop with goalies and skaters changing on the fly. There was little to no defense played allowing for plenty of top-notch scoring chances.
“You got the adrenaline to push you through,” Zetting, who’s hockey career reached as far as Junior A in the BCHL with the Burnaby Express, said. “But yeah, you’re just trying to control what you can control. Don’t worry about who’s looking, you know, don’t worry about the other guys, you just play your game. Honestly, it’s all about just soaking in the experience, and just enjoying the moment, because how often do you get to be out here for this?”
What’s next for the Kraken EBUGs?
Mandrycky and Allen will compare notes and see if there was anyone worthy at the skate. They will have a rotation of EBUGs ready to go by the home opener on Oct. 23. Mandrycky added that there were probably good local goalies who weren’t there and they may hold future evaluations to find them.
Once selected, one EBUG will attend Kraken home games and sit in The Climate Pledge Arena press box waiting and wondering if their time will come.
And if their time does come, and they watch two goalies go down?
“Just enjoy the moment and just realize you’re in a once-in-a-million opportunity,” Zetting said. “It’s just so crazy to me. There’s no other professional sports thing where an average Joe can come off the street and jump into a professional game. It’s just wild and I love it.”
The goalies were on the ice Monday for the love of hockey and to take advantage of a fun opportunity. One chance to maybe, just maybe, live out those long-lost childhood dreams of playing, or suiting up, for an NHL game.
There’s no pay in it for the eventual roster of EBUGs but that doesn’t matter.
“They’re amateurs,” Mandrycky reminded. “I think they get the game worn jersey and some good memories.”
It’s roughly a nine-hour flight, spanning over 4,400 miles, from Skelleftea, Sweden, to Seattle. That’s the distance Seattle Kraken defenseman Adam Larsson traveled to join his new team at the Kraken Community Iceplex to prepare for the upcoming season.
Larsson, 28, figures to be a key player on the Kraken blue line but first needs to acclimate to the time zone, something he says he is just now getting used to.
“It’s been a couple of nice days here,” he said last week after an informal skate. “I’m still trying to figure out the city a little bit and everything around.”
A right-shot defenseman who routinely logs 20-plus minutes a game, Larsson is a veteran of 603 NHL contests with the New Jersey Devils and the Edmonton Oilers. It’s that experience and leadership that will be counted on as Seattle tries to meld together a group of players both young and old.
After being selected by New Jersey with the fourth overall pick during the 2011 NHL Entry Draft, Larsson would be traded in the 2016 offseason to the Edmonton Oilers for former first overall pick Taylor Hall. That trade garnered a lot of attention and forced Larsson to adapt to a new team.
Larsson signed with Seattle as a free agent during the NHL Expansion Draft and is adapting to a new organization once again. Only this time, the entire roster has to adapt to each other quickly.
“It’s different, maybe the outside of hockey part is a lot different,” he said of the transition to Seattle. “Nobody really knows where to live or where to look and stuff like that, but most of these guys are regulars in the NHL. They know what a training camp is like and know what the NHL is like. We’ll figure it out pretty quick, but obviously it’s teammates who have never played together before so it’s gonna be an interesting training camp. We all got 25 new friends now. So, yeah, it’s fun.”
He spent five seasons in Edmonton and the decision to leave wasn’t easy. The Kraken were afforded the ability to talk and negotiate a contract during their exclusive 72-hour free agency window prior to the Expansion Draft. Larsson would eventually sign a four-year contract at $4 million a season with Seattle.
“It was obviously looking and seeing what they built here and being part of something new is always fun,” he said of his decision. “It’s always exciting and I think the right people are running it. I was jumping on this opportunity right away when I knew they wanted me here.”
Larsson has been on the ice with the Kraken since he arrived in town. The team has gathered at the Iceplex for informal skates, referred to as ‘Captains’ Skates,’ to begin the preparation for the season.
These types of skates, which are free of coaches per NHL rules, are not unique to the Kraken. They occur throughout the league, but in Seattle, they’re more critical as the 25 new friends get used to each other on and off the ice.
“I think it’s more important to get to know each other and kind of build a team environment and the friendships that we need to be successful. We’ve had some good practices,” Larsson said.
Adam Larsson the player
Larsson is not going to fill up the stat sheet with a ton of goals and assists.
He’s never topped the four-goal mark in any season and his career high in points is 24, recorded with the Devils during the 2014-15 campaign. But goals and points are not where Larsson’s value lies.
Playing at both ends of the ice, he is the quintessential two-way defenseman. He can retrieve the puck, is a good passer, and plays a physical game while not being afraid to initiate contact with the opponents. He hasn’t played a ton of minutes on the power play but will see the ice for crucial penalty kills.
Edmonton valued his defensive play last year and of his 418 on-ice starts 147 were in the defensive zone and 204 were in the neutral zone compared to just 67 in the offensive zone. Most importantly for the Kraken is that he’ll eat up minutes for head coach Dave Hakstol no matter where he starts on the ice.
Larsson is quick to point out that it is too early to say where he’ll play in the lineup or who his defensive partner will be. It’s safe to say that he’ll be in one of the top two defensive pairings for the Kraken, and there has been a lot of speculation suggesting he’ll play with fellow veteran Mark Giordano on the top group.
The two have never played together but are quite familiar with each other, having squared off in the Battle of Alberta over the past five seasons. There is no love lost between Calgary and Edmonton but there is respect.
“I felt like I played him 400 times last year, so I know him pretty well,” Larsson said of his rival turned teammate. “I think it’s everything (that makes him good). The way he plays with the puck, without the puck and he leads the team the right way. That’s why he was the captain of the Flames so long. He’s a very important piece on this team as well.”
Giordano is the more offensively minded of the duo which suggests an intriguing pairing. While Larsson is more of a two-way player, he’s not going to weigh down Giordano but rather compliment him. Where the two play will be one of the items to watch as training camp and the preseason kick off this week.
Training camp will move quickly. The Kraken open camp Thursday, just a handful of days before their first preseason game Sunday against Vancouver. Don’t be shocked if the veteran Larsson gets plenty of ice time.
“I like the preseason,” he said. “It’s the way to get the timing, the touches, the battles and everything. Even with these Captains’ Skates, you’re still battling against your own teammates, so it’s not the same.”
Will Larsson represent the Kraken and Sweden at the 2022 Winter Olympics?
He’s never played in the Olympics but has represented Sweden before in prestigious tournaments such as three appearances at the World Junior Championship – 2009, 2010, 2011 – and at the IIHF World Championship in 2016, 2018 and 2019.
Will he be hearing the Olympic march this February?
“I think every hockey player would love to play in the Olympics,” he said. “It’s obviously pretty far away right now. I think everybody is focusing on training camp coming up and the NHL season to start, but I think you will see the league kind of ramp up closer to Olympics.”
Sweden boasts some high-end defensemen when it comes to an Olympic team. Most of those players, like Tampa Bay Lightning stalwart Victor Hedman, are elite offensive blueliners but there is room for a solid, two-way defenseman such as Larsson.
“We’ll see if I even fit in there,” Larsson added with a chuckle.
The Olympics are a nice carrot down the road, but for now, Larsson and his Kraken teammates are going to continue to get skates in this week. Then it’s training camp, preseason, and the inaugural voyage of a Seattle hockey team that has been a long time in the making.
“I think everybody will be super excited,” Larsson added. “All the fans, players to coaches, the whole organization and the city. It’s gonna be a lot of fun.”
Whether it was Dominik Hasek dominating at Nagano in 1998, or T.J. Oshie’s shootout prowess at Sochi in 2014, or the amazing 1980 Miracle on Ice, the Winter Olympics have provided us with some of hockey’s most memorable moments. With the September announcement that NHL players would be returning to play during February’s 2022 Olympics in Beijing, we could be treated to more big moments, and for the first time ever, there just may be some Seattle connections as the Kraken have players who will fight for medals.
Seattle isn’t loaded with Olympic hopefuls, but it does have players that will be in the Games and others who are in the mix to represent their countries. Who are those players and what nations’ jerseys will they be sporting during the Beijing Olympics?
Here’s a look at which players to keep an eye on during the leadup to the 2022 Winter Olympics.
Kraken locks to play in the Olympics
Philipp Grubauer – Goalie – Germany
Granted there is not a lot of NHL competition for the German net at the Olympics, but Grubauer would be the top choice even if there was. The only other active German goalie in the NHL is Thomas Greiss who played 34 games with the Detroit Red Wings last season.
No slight on Greiss, who could make a nice veteran back-up for Germany, but Grubauer is better and coming off a season that earned him a nod for the Vezina Trophy.
Grubauer has not played in the Olympics before but has a long history of playing in international tournaments for Germany. He started back in 2006-07 when he played for the German U16 team and has since suited up in the black and gold for his country in the U17’s and U18’s in 2008 and the World Junior Championship in 2009, 2010, and 2011. Since turning pro he’s played in the World Championship and with Team Europe during 2017’s World Cup of Hockey.
Last season in Colorado was one of Grubauer’s best and the Rosenheim product boasts a career save percentage of .920 in the NHL. Sorry Thomas Greiss, it’s going to be Grubauer.
Germany has not fared well in the Olympics historically but has medaled three times and is the reigning Olympic silver medalist after 2018’s second-place finish in Pyeongchang – a year that NHL players were not involved in the Games. Germany also had bronze finishes in 1932 at Lake Placid and 1976 at Innsbruck. Can Grubauer extend their medal streak to two?
Alex True – Center – Denmark
How can a player who has played 19 NHL games, as True has, be a lock to play for his country in the Olympics? Well, while Denmark is an emerging hockey country, there aren’t a ton of Danes flooding the NHL.
Denmark qualified for the Olympics at the end of August and is appearing in the Games for the first time ever. The nation does boast a handful of NHL regulars, led by Winnipeg’s Nikolaj Ehlers, who was huge in this summer’s qualifying rounds. True, who is Ehlers’ cousin, is on the NHL bubble but has played for Team Denmark at every high-level tournament the Danes have played in recently. That includes the U16’s in 2012-13 where he scored eight points in 11 games. His international play also includes two appearances in the World Junior Championship in 2014 and 2015, and for the latter of which he was team captain.
This past spring, he played for Denmark in the World Championship, scoring a goal and an assist in seven games. The former Seattle Thunderbirds import player has been a regular with Denmark, and there’s no reason to think he won’t get the invite for Beijing in February.
Kraken who could be in the mix for the Olympics
Adam Larsson – Defense – Sweden
The 28-year-old Larsson has some competition in making a Swedish team that is one of the power nations when it comes to international play. He has represented Sweden before, including at the World Junior Championship in 2010 and 2011. Larsson has not made an Olympic appearance but has participated in three World Championships – the latest was in 2019.
Larsson is not a scoring defenseman but plays a solid two-way game and is a right-handed shot which might get him a look. International teams like to load up on offense which might hurt Larsson’s chance, but there is still room or a guy who takes care of his own end.
Sweden has some outstanding defensemen to choose from led by players such as Victor Hedman, Erik Karlsson, and Oliver Ekman-Larsson. It could be tough for Larsson to crack the top seven or eight Swedish blueliners, but he has a shot and a hot start with the Kraken would go a long way to helping his cause.
Joonas Donskoi – Forward – Finland
The 29-year old Donskoi is a player who keeps getting better each season. Last year he was on pace to top the 20-goal mark for the first time in his NHL career by scoring 17 times in 51 games. Seattle selected the winger from the Colorado Avalanche, and he can be penciled into the Kraken top-six forward group.
Donskoi has played for Team Finland in the past. He represented his country once at the U16’s and twice in the U17’s. Along with that, he made three appearances – 2010, 2011, and 2012 – at the World Juniors for Finland.
Finland shows strongly in international tournaments like the Olympics, and Donskoi does have some NHL competition for a spot on the roster. The Finns feature guys like Florida’s Aleksander Barkov, Carolina’s Sebastian Aho, and Colorado’s Mikko Rantanen at the top of their lineup. But Donskoi doesn’t need to beat those guys to make the team. Of all the active Finnish forwards in the NHL, Donskoi has scored the ninth-most points. That feels good enough to put him in the Olympic running.
Calle Jarnkrok – Forward – Sweden
Making Team Sweden could be a long shot for Jarnkrok, but it’s not impossible. He has played for Sweden in the past including a couple of U18 appearances in 2009 and 2010, a World Junior Championship run in 2011, and two times as a pro in the World Championship.
Jarnkrok is a two-way forward with some offensive upside and could very well end up in the Kraken top six this season. He’ll need a good start to be selected along with Swedish locks like Gabriel Landeskog, Nicklas Backstrom, Mika Zibanejad, and others.
That might be an uphill battle for Jarnkrok, but the Swedes could do worse for a bottom of the order winger who can play at both ends of the ice while providing secondary goal scoring.
The long shots
Yanni Gourde – Center – Canada
Team Canada is loaded. When aren’t they? No matter what the international tournament, Canada is among the favorites with rosters that resemble all-star teams.
The Olympics are no different, and while Gourde is a strong player, there may be too many players ahead of him. The 29-year-old won his second-straight Stanley Cup last year with Tampa Bay but also suffered a torn labrum which required offseason surgery. He is the stereotypical 200-foot player who has offensive pop and can play in every situation for you.
But the Olympics, right or wrong, is a short tournament that is tailored for the big stars and big scorers. If it were a long tournament, Gourde’s value would rise. It also hurts him that he’s going to miss that start of the year while his shoulder recovers.
Also hurting Gourde is that he’s never played for his country in an international tournament and had not been in Hockey Canada’s system. He would need to be healthy and off to an explosive start to seriously be a threat to crack Canada’s roster.
Matty Beniers – Center – United States
Ok, so techincally Beniers is not a member of the Seattle Kraken yet. But he is a Kraken prospect after the club selected him second overall, so we are including him on this list.
His chances of making the U.S. Olympic team? It’s pretty slim but the 19-year-old University of Michigan star not only helped the Americans win gold at this past winter’s World Junior Championship, but he played for the U.S. along with pros at the World Championship this spring.
Beniers played well in both tournaments. The United States is now one of hockey’s power countries and can ice a contending roster without throwing a bone to the young Beniers. On top of that, the Olympics are in February at a time when Beniers and Michigan will be ramping up for the NCAA Tournament. So, Beniers won’t play for the U.S. this winter but don’t rule out future Olympic appearances for the Kraken’s top prospect.
Thursday was a morning of Starbucks coffee, speeches, and just a little peek of Kraken hockey as about 15 players hit the ice for a workout known commonly as a ‘captains’ skate.’ For the first time we were able to see actual Kraken players skating on actual Kraken ice.
The complex is impressive and includes a Starbucks Community Store, a Kraken team shop, a Virginia Mason Medical Pavilion, and soon the 32 Bar and Grill – slated to open in the fall of 2021.
While seeing the Kraken skating was fun, and a bit surreal after the lengthy process to get us to this point in the process, the overarching theme of the morning and of the Iceplex is the impact it will have on the region. Specifically that impact is focused on youth hockey, adult hockey, and growing the game in the Seattle community.
“Now the real work begins,” Kraken director of youth and community development Kyle Boyd said.
That work has already begun, and the Kraken are currently registering youth for various levels of hockey. The team has already conducted remote ‘learn to play’ events throughout the state and will hold more at the Iceplex. But they also offer, and registration is open, for the Jr. Squid program which is an in-house hockey development program for youth ages 6-9.
Older and more experienced players can register for the Junior Kraken. The Junior Kraken will ice teams in U8 through U12 age groups. There will be evaluation skates in September to properly place players, and parents can sign their kids up now.
“We think about our offices being here, the team being here, practices, training camp, and obviously a great opportunity to engage with our fans, but 50 percent of the building, if not more, is really dedicated to that (local youth hockey) community,” Boyd said. “So, bringing in kids for learn to skate, learn to play, bringing youth hockey associations from around the state in for regional tournaments, it’s going to be an amazing facility. I think this is a great beacon for what we want to do in the hockey community here.”
The Iceplex won’t limit its ice to youth hockey, however.
Formerly known as the Greater Seattle Hockey League, the newly minted Kraken Hockey League will give the city’s robust adult rec hockey players a chance to play as well. The three rinks at the Kraken Community Iceplex will be the only three that are available in the city limits which will open up ice times for the adult hockey population.
“If you’re interested as an adult, now’s the time to sign up for the Kraken Hockey League,” Boyd said. “They’re gonna still continue to play out at some of the other rinks too, but it’s gonna be a real opportunity for those adults who also want to come and give it a try, and to feel like they can be out there one day and participate on the main rink and learn the skills that those NHL guys have.”
While hockey is the main focus, the Iceplex will have figure skating programming to offer, and yes, curling programs as well.
Kraken Community Iceplex photo gallery
Enjoy photos that Sound Of Hockey photographer Brian Liesse captured during Thursday’s event.
Last week we illustrated why the 2021-22 Seattle Kraken roster looks better than the 2017-18 Vegas Golden Knights roster did heading into their first NHL season. The Golden Knights also got some key contributions and performances from unlikely players that propelled them into the playoffs in their first year in the NHL. Could some of the Seattle Kraken players be cast into these roles during their inaugural season? We look at some of the key contributors from the Vegas Golden Knights’ magical run in 2017-18 and examine which Seattle Kraken players could play those parts in 2021-22.
The come-out-of-nowhere goal scorer: William Karlsson
William Karlsson was the biggest surprise on the Golden Knights roster during that inaugural season. In the prior two seasons, Karlsson scored 15 goals in 162 games for the Columbus Blue Jackets. In the 2017-18 season, he scored 43 goals for the Golden Knights in 82 games. He led the Golden Knights in goals scored and was third in the league that season.
It is unfair to expect anyone to score 40+ goals in a season, but there are a few candidates who could find themselves having a breakout year with an expanded role in Seattle.
Jared McCann flew under the radar across the league, playing in the shadows of Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, and Jake Guentzel. McCann had 14 goals in 43 games and averaged a relatively low 14 minutes per game. McCann is a safe bet to land on one of the top two forward lines for the Kraken which should get his time on ice north of 17 minutes. More time on ice equals more opportunity to contribute. A 30-goal season from McCann is a legitimate possibility in 2021-22.
Calle Jarnkrok is another sleeper to have a breakout year. Jarnkrok bounced up and down between the second and third line for the Nashville Predators last season and potted 13 goals in 43 games. That was tied for first on the Predators, and just two of his 13 goals came on the power play. Jarnkrok will see more ice time this season, particularly with Yanni Gourde being out of the lineup to start the year. It is unlikely that he hits the 40-goal mark, but getting 30 for Calle is also a possibility.
The rookie surprise: Alex Tuch
Another unlikely breakout for the Golden Knights was rookie forward Alex Tuch. Tuch had just six NHL games before he was acquired during the Expansion Draft via a side deal with Minnesota. He was a former first-round draft pick so maybe we should not have been surprised with his output. He scored 15 goals and 22 assists in 78 games for the Golden Knights that first season.
The Sound Of Hockey team is really excited about Morgan Geekie’s potential. At just 23 years old, he has yet to be given the opportunity to shine in the NHL. He did play 36 games for the Hurricanes last season but averaged less than 10 minutes per game. Geekie will be fighting for a spot on this team, but with Gourde out to start the season, he might be given that opportunity to play up the lineup. That would allow him to really show what he can do.
Nathan Bastian might not be a rookie, but he has only played 48 NHL games over the last two seasons. It might be a bit early for Bastian to take a high-profile contributing role in the NHL, but he has a balanced game and showed that he has a scoring touch in the AHL a few years back. Bastian’s strength is playing a complete game, so his contributions might not show up in the goal column, but seeing his game take a step in the right direction will help the Kraken form a more balanced lineup.
Big step for a young blueliner: Shea Theodore
Shea Theodore started the first month of the 2017-18 season playing for the Chicago Wolves in the AHL. He was eventually called up by the Golden Knights and never looked back. The former Seattle Thunderbird finished the season with 29 points over 61 games and placed second on the team for time on ice per game.
The Seattle Kraken defensive corps is stronger than that of the Golden Knights during the 2017-18 season, so the need for a young, up-and-coming defenseman to take that big step is not required. If there were a young blueliner to expect that from, though, Haydn Fleury is probably the defenseman to keep an eye on. Fleury has a lot of potential but has yet to establish himself as a consistent NHL player over the last few seasons. A fresh start in Seattle could be exactly what he needs at this point in his young career.
What you see is what you get: James Neal and Jonathan Marchessault
James Neal and Jonathan Marchessault continued posting numbers consistent with their career norms for the Golden Knights in their first season. Neal had 23 goals the season before moving to Vegas and 25 goals in that 2017-18 season for the Golden Knights. Meanwhile, Marchessault had 30 goals before his 27-goal campaign with the Golden Knights.
Goal scoring by committee seems to be the game plan for this team. Getting consistent contributions from Joonas Donskoi, Jordan Eberle, and Yanni Gourde will be needed for success in year one of the franchise. All three of them are capable of scoring 20 goals in a season and all three players have been consistent performers over the last few years.
To be clear, we are not anticipating the same success for the Seattle Kraken that the Golden Knights experienced in year one. Vegas seemed to be a team possessed with everything clicking for them during the 2017-18 season. Anticipating a William Karlsson-type 40-plus-goal season from one of the Kraken players is not reasonable, but it may not be required to make the playoffs. Several media outlets have the Kraken earmarked as a playoff team, and if a couple of these contributing roles play out, it will solidify their position in the notably weak Pacific Division.