From Kansas City to the Wheeling Nailers, Taran Kozun has seen it all

From Kansas City to the Wheeling Nailers, Taran Kozun has seen it all

Taran Kozun led the Wheeling Nailers onto the ice at Hertz Arena in Estero, Florida, last weekend and took his familiar place in net. That’s where a goalie feels most at home. The Nailers were battling the Florida Everblades, and Kozun kicked away 26 of the 28 shots he faced to pick up a 6-2 win.

It was the second start Kozun made for the Nailers and his first win, backing up teammates he is still getting to know after being signed two weeks prior. Back in Wheeling, he’s barely unpacked his bags, just relying on a few necessities.  

Outside of the goal crease, “home” has become a novelty for the 26-year-old former Seattle Thunderbird this season.

Since the ECHL season started in January, he has been with six different teams. The Nailers are the latest stop for Kozun and he’s hoping he can stay a while; hoping he can finally unpack his belongings. Life in the minor leagues offers no guarantees, especially for goalies, but this year has been uniquely topsy-turvy as Kozun has learned firsthand.

“Honestly, it’s been a whirlwind,” he says.

Taran Kozun’s journey to the Nailers began in Kansas City

After signing an ECHL contract to play for the Mavericks in Kansas City, Kozun traveled from his home in Nipawin, Saskatchewan to start training camp in December.

Things started rough as he tested positive for Covid and was put on the inactive list just prior to the start of the ECHL season. The Mavericks brought in other goalies and Kozun was on the move after playing in one game.

He had hoped he’d stay longer but also was aware the possibility of ending up with a different team was always in the cards.

“With ECHL you never know what’s going to happen with the goalie situation,” Kozun says. “When other teams sign a guy and guys get sent down there’s never a guarantee that you’re going to stay. I kind of knew there’s always the possibility of changing teams and that you’re never really set in stone to play for one team.”

Taran Kozun has played two games so far with the Wheeling Nailers. (photo Zach Rawson courtesy Wheeling Nailers)

As an ECHL goalie he was at the mercy of the NHL organization’s goalie movement. When the big club sends down a guy on an AHL or NHL contract, a player like Kozun is the odd man out.

The first change came quick and on Dec. 30 he was loaned to the Pensacola Ice Flyers of the SPHL. He played in one game and two weeks later was headed back to the ECHL to suit up for the Indy Fuel. After making 41 saves and picking up a win for the Fuel he was packed up and sent to the Rapid City Rush.

Again, he played one game before heading to the Orlando Solar Bears.

He was becoming the fill-in goalie. If a team had an injury, or another goalie ended up on the Covid list, Kozun would be brought in. Sometimes he’d hole up in an apartment with teammates who were strangers with little time to get to know them.

Others, he’d arrive with a team and go on a road trip, living in hotels and on Door Dash.

The constant moving was starting to drag on the normally easy-going Kozun.

“There were some tough days, I didn’t really want to go to the rink some days,” he says. “I didn’t know if I’d be coming home to pack my stuff. It was a really stressful time but I got my mind right and went to the rink and worked as hard as I could and worked out off the ice to help my cause to make sure I was ready to practice hard. It was definitely a hard couple of months. It took a lot of days of getting to know myself and getting through it.”

After a tough outing with the Solar Bears, he was able to turn to a friendly face. Kozun’s older brother, Tad, plays for Orlando and the two were able to spend some time together.

“I was getting to the breaking point to be honest,” Kozun said. “Just getting to hang out with him on the off days, if I wasn’t there, I was probably real close to saying I’ll just go home and call it a year. I didn’t know what to do or what to say to stick in a spot.

“Every time I brought it up with my brother he just said, ‘If you make it through, you’ll be good because you’ll know how to do it the next time.’ Not something that you like going through your head especially when you love showing up to the rink with the guys, hanging out with your teammates every day.”

Thanks to brotherly advice and a passion for hockey, Kozun has stuck with it. After Orlando he would move to the Allen Americans on Feb. 24 and eventually to the Wheeling Nailers on March 8.

Taran Kozun has played for six different ECHL teams this season. (photo Zack Rawson courtesy Wheeling Nailers)

Hockey is still fun for Taran Kozun

Off the ice, Kozun is quick to smile and is a hit with his teammates everywhere he’s played.

He’s performed well in his stops prior to this year’s ECHL merry-go-round. The Seattle Thunderbirds picked him up via a trade with the Kamloops Blazers in 2014. The following season, his last in the WHL he was spectacular and would end up winning the WHL Goalie of the Year award.

After the WHL he played college hockey for the University of Saskatchewan where he turned in his best season of hockey. Kozun led the Huskies last season to a Canada West title. He was named Canada West Male Athlete of the Year after posting a 17-3-2 record and 1.87 goals-against with a .931 save-percentage.

“We had a really great coach in Dave Adolph,” Kozun says of playing in college. “Once he got the guys on the same page and got us playing the Husky way, it was a lot of fun. Those guys I’ll have great memories with, they’re like best friends. I have to give the coaching staff a lot of compliments. They did everything for me.”

Not only did he win a title with Saskatchewan, he fulfilled something that every goalie dreams of.

He scored a goal.

“That was pretty wild and something I’ve tried in the past and never been able to hit the net,” Kozun says. “For that moment, didn’t really know what was going through my head. I was lucky enough to hit the net. I think I was more excited to see the guys’ faces and how excited they were for me, that made the moment even better.”

After a goal and a college championship, Kozun has described this season as a ‘180’ from last year. But that doesn’t mean it’s been all bad. He’s been reunited with a former Seattle teammate in Evan Wardley in Wheeling and once the puck drops, he’s had fun.

“Once you get to skate around and play the game, you forget about what’s happened,” Kozun says. “If you’re having troubles off the ice when you get to the rink and hang out, once you get on the ice everything else you forget. It’s the highlight of the day to get on the ice and not worry about anything else.

“You’re just stopping the puck and making sure your movements are right…making sure my game’s always good. Playing games, you forget about everything, you’re worried about your compete level and being positive.”

Taran Kozun played a season and a half with the Seattle Thunderbirds. (Brian Liesse)

Can Taran Kozun stay with the Wheeling Nailers?

Kozun’s love of hockey has helped him persevere through what has been an extreme season.

He’s learned how to deal with the unpredictability of minor pro hockey and done whatever he can to put his best skate forward when given the opportunity.

The plan is to keep pushing and to see how far he can take his hockey dreams, even if it means not fully unpacking his bags. For now, he’s a Wheeling Nailer and he’s going to compete every time he’s on the ice in practice or games.

“Whenever I get a chance to play, I want to win,” Kozun says. “If I don’t win, I’m not very happy with myself. Being able to have that compete really drives me and helps me mentally prepare for games and do my best. I’ve enjoyed it here in Wheeling and hopefully I can stay for a while.”

An oral history of the Seattle Thunderbirds 2017 WHL Championship season: Part one

An oral history of the Seattle Thunderbirds 2017 WHL Championship season: Part one

It happened on Mother’s Day 2017. In Regina, Saskatchewan, Game 6 of the Western Hockey League’s Championship went to overtime. At 12:46 in the extra frame, Seattle’s Alexander True knocked his own rebound into the Regina Pats goal to give the Thunderbirds their first league championship.

Looking at the Thunderbirds roster you might think that winning the championship was a no-brainer for Seattle. Led by Mathew Barzal and Ethan Bear, the Thunderbirds had five players who would go on to play in the NHL.

But Seattle didn’t breeze its way to glory.

The Thunderbirds faced uncertainty both during the regular season and in the playoffs. They had to rely on a green 16-year-old rookie goalie along with what seemed to be a playoff-ending injury to Bear.

They overcame it all and this is their story told by some of the players that were there. To help re-live that magical season, we spoke with Bear, his defense partner Turner Ottenbreit, co-captain Scott Eansor, winger Donovan Neuls, defenseman Austin Strand, winger Keegan Kolesar, and assistant coach Matt O’Dette.

O’Dette served as Steve Konowalchuk’s assistant and took over the Seattle bench the next season. He is one of the last remaining links to that team who is still with the Thunderbirds.

Ethan Bear was the 2017 WHL Defenseman of the Year playing for the Seattle Thunderbirds. (Brian Liesse)

The 2016-2017 season started after the Thunderbirds dropped a tough four games to the Brandon Wheat Kings in the WHL Championship Series the spring before. That loss lingered into the offseason and into the new year.

Ethan Bear: It was very tough. We went all the way to the finals and when another team hoists the trophy in your arena, it stings. We really wanted to win. They were a good team so hats off, but it lit that fire inside all of us returning guys.

Keegan Kolesar: It was a hard one honestly. I know a lot of guys from that team, and I see them in the summer and it always gets brought up. We have a huge argument about it and I lose it because we didn’t win.

Donovan Neuls: It was nice to get there but very disappointing. The worst part was we lost three games in overtime, being up in the third period. Looking back now a couple of overtime goals they got the bounces and we didn’t.

Matt O’Dette: Looking back, there was a really good chance we could have put two in a row together. Arguably we might have had a better team but lost those first three games going into overtime. I think in each we had a lead in the third period. Just the way we lost them was heartbreaking. Great series and obviously a lot of guys from both teams moved on to the NHL. The bounces just didn’t go our way.

Scott Eansor: It was the first time we had gone far in the playoffs and we really came together that year. To see the older guys go, we had a really good leadership group. We were really unsure as to who was coming back next year, and it was really hard to lose that.

Turner Ottenbreit: That was really tough. We had a great team that year and Brandon was a great team too. It was a great series.

Kolesar: At the time I thought we had pissed away our chance to win it all.

Thunderbirds start 2016-2017 season with uncertainty

Who would return the next year? Ryan Gropp and his deadly wrist shot had been drafted and signed by the New York Rangers. A would-be 20-year-old that could really help was likely not coming back. Barzal was going to head to the New York Islanders training camp with an eye on making the NHL. As the season began, neither player was in Seattle.

Neuls: We weren’t sure what to expect. We weren’t sure if those big guys were coming back.

Kolesar: I was confident in our team the next year too. I looked at our roster and thought depending on who gets traded, who makes pro, we still have a really good roster, but you never know how many chances you have.

Eansor: I don’t think we had expectations. When some of those guys were away a lot of guys stepped up. We were winning but not at the rate that we were with those key guys. Guys like Donny Neuls, Nolan Volcan, and Sami Moilanen really stepped up and I think that gave them some confidence in secondary scoring and leadership.

The Thunderbirds started the 2016-2017 season unsure if Mathew Barzal would return. (Brian Liesse)

O’Dette: A lot of unknowns. We were looking to build off our playoff experience. Hoping for Barzy to come back and when he came back, we were really in business. You didn’t necessarily know what was going to happen and then we got Gropp back as a 20 and now the band was back together.

Kolesar: You want to see your buddies move on to the next level. We were all rooting for Barzy and Gropper to make the jump to the next level…I think the team was in limbo trying to figure out what to do. Were we gearing up for another run or going into a rebuild?

The Thunderbirds welcomed Gropp back first after the New York Rangers sent him back from the AHL.

Bear: That was a surprise…(Gropp) coming back, he had that extra motivation and it gave us an extra spark getting Gropper back. He’s a sniper and a damn good player.

Eansor: It was a big boost. Groppy is an awesome guy in the locker room and just really a positive, good guy and it just cheers you up to see one of your best buddies come back. But it’s also sad, he deserved to stay up there.

A month after the surprise return of Gropp, word broke that the Islanders had returned Barzal to the Thunderbirds.

Kolesar: The dogs are back. We had our core group back and once we all knew we had the roster that we did, we knew we had something special.

Neuls: Everybody was excited because we knew we had a chance. We had a good group of guys who played well together.

O’Dette: He’s a friend of all the guys in the room, it was a close-knit team. When you get him back morale goes up off the ice and then the type of player you’re adding on the ice, he’s one of the best players in the league. You add that and it could be a 180 for your team. As coaches, it was hard not to be excited.

Ottenbreit: We’re having a great season as it is and to get that guy back in the lineup. We know what kind of player he is, he’s a special player and just a great person all around.

Barzal’s first game back was in Vancouver as the Thunderbirds beat the Vancouver Giants. After the game, Barzal said he told the team that he’d spring for Chipotle if they won. Did he own up and pay?

Bear: I have no clue. I don’t remember that. He bought Chipotle a couple times, so he probably did own up to it.

Ottenbreit: I’m not sure, I can’t remember but he bought us enough stuff.

Neuls:There’s no way he did. He might have bought us one along the line but there’s no way he bought us all one together.

Eansor: Probably not. He probably didn’t own to that. He didn’t at all.

Kolesar: I would give him credit if he actually did it, but I know for sure that guy sat on his wallet. Bear is just being nice.

Thunderbirds make depth moves at trade deadline to make championship run

With the offense in place, the Thunderbirds looked to shore up their defense. At the trade deadline, general manager Russ Farwell swung a pair of trades that weren’t blockbusters but helped provide much needed depth. In separate moves, he added Aaron Hyman from the Calgary Hitmen and Austin Strand from the Red Deer Rebels.

Austin Strand: I kind of expected a trade. I wasn’t sure where, but I was talking with my agent and thought it would be best for me to go somewhere else. It happened early January after Christmas break. I was taking a pregame nap and my billet dad woke me up… I was pretty pumped when I heard Seattle because my best buddy (Rylan) Toth got traded there at the beginning of the year.

Austin Strand came to Seattle in a mid-season trade and gave the Thunderbirds depth on defense. (Brian Liesse)

Kolesar: They were great guys. I got to sit next to Hyman in the locker room and I got to know him. He was easy to get along with, same with Strander. We had an incredible group of guys which made that season a lot of fun.

Ottenbreit: Those two played a huge role for us and bolstered the blue line. They were huge all the second half and playoffs and stepped up big time. We knew we could score but didn’t know how our defense would be, but they stepped up.

O’Dette: At the time they felt like subtle moves but to win a championship you need six D that can play. We were fairly top-heavy at the time with Bear and Ottenbreit. We needed depth to stretch out our back end some more. Russ made some crafty moves to add Strand and Hyman. It put less stress on our top two defenseman there.

Strand: They brought me on board and told me to do what I do. I remember I had a pretty good game in Seattle and Russ remembered that. They just told me to fit in as much as I could. I ended up getting to know those guys really well.

Eansor: The two big things with those guys is, they fit right in…they both fit in so well. Strander didn’t play with us very long but he still comes out to help with Bearsy’s camp. As a player he played a role and he stepped up to the plate and as you can see by him earning an NHL contract, he’s a really good player.

The Thunderbirds had a championship roster but faced key injuries in second half

The adversity started on New Year’s Eve against the Portland Winterhawks. Eansor, one of the team’s co-captains and key players, was injured. He would go on to miss the bulk of the season’s second half. He wasn’t alone as the Thunderbirds found a way to keep winning despite several injuries and would end the season with an impressive 46-20-4-2 record.

Eansor: Sitting on the sidelines after a strong start to the season is never easy. What really made it nice was everybody was stepping up to the plate. I definitely cared about future aspirations of pro hockey, but I really wanted to enjoy and win in my last year in Seattle. It was really hard be a leader and having new guys not really knowing you since you’re not around.

Bear: It was almost like we would win at will. When we get together, we talk about it and laugh about it. A lot of our success came from having good coaches in Kono and O’Dette. They kept pushing us and after every win we’d celebrate for 30 minutes and then move on… We were bred that season to never be satisfied. We had a lot of guys willing to play their roles and bear down with every chance. We really didn’t have ego on that team. It was a really close group and I’ve never been on a team like that.

Kolesar: It was just the next man was up. No matter what happened we were still a confident team. I think that was our greatest attribute. No matter what happened we felt we were going to win.

Ottenbreit: I think the depth was huge but also going into games being confident that we could win every night. We had that mindset. We went into games knowing we were going to win. Confidence, you’d be surprised how long you could roll with that… We always had guys who would step it up.

Strand: If guys went out other guys stepped up. We had so much depth, our third line I think had Volcan and Eansor. We just knew once one of those guys got hurt everyone would elevate their game. Kono had us on a tight ship and everyone was accountable.

Neuls: A lot of guys just stepped up when they needed to. With the top guys, the other guys might have been overlooked a little bit. We didn’t necessarily fill their shoes, but we helped get the job done.

Eansor: I felt kind of guilty being out, but I just couldn’t do it.

O’Dette: Those types of situations battle test you. Strengthens your team, strengthens those bonds. When the playoffs came and we had some more kinks, those adversities that hit us in the playoffs, we were used to those things that happened. It’s just rolling with the punches.

The Thunderbirds tore down the stretch in a race with the Everett Silvertips. They would endure a couple more big injuries as the playoffs loomed. We’ll have that and more in part two of our oral history, coming soon on Sound Of Hockey.

10 reasons why the NHL/ESPN deal is big for hockey

10 reasons why the NHL/ESPN deal is big for hockey

Last week, the NHL and ESPN announced a seven-year television, streaming, and media rights deal that kicks off at the beginning of the 2021-22 season and runs through the 2027-28 season. Here are the main bullet points:

  • 25 exclusive national regular-season games on ABC or ESPN.
  • 75 national regular-season games per season produced by ESPN that will stream exclusively on both ESPN+ and Hulu.
  • Half of the Stanley Cup Playoffs on ABC and ESPN each season.
  • Exclusive coverage of the Stanley Cup Playoffs for four out of the seven seasons.
  • NHL’s out-of-market streaming package, currently known as NHL.tv, will be available exclusively through the ESPN+ subscription.

Most people in the industry see this as a huge win for ESPN, the NHL, and most importantly the fans. Here is a list of 10 reasons why this NHL/ESPN partnership is a big deal for hockey fans:

1. Streaming focus. The Walt Disney company, the owner of ESPN, reached a tipping point for their direct-to-consumer streaming distribution with their big launch of Disney+. The 75 national regular-season games that are slated for ESPN+ are a clear signal that Disney is planning a big push for direct-to-consumer sports products without the burden of a complete cable package that consumers have been forced to purchase for years to access ESPN content.

2. Change agent for ROOT sports. The biggest complaint we heard from fans after the Root Sports/Kraken announcement was the lack of streaming options that came with that deal. With Disney taking an aggressive approach and making a huge investment in the NHL with streaming rights on ESPN+, this could influence regional sports networks, like Root Sports, to create streaming options sooner rather than later. I do not anticipate changes any time soon, but this will put pressure on the RSN’s.

3. Multi-network. There will be an additional TV partner here. NBC is still in the running, as is Fox Sports. So if you do not want to splurge on the $5 a month to get ESPN+ and the additional 75 games, you will be able to get more nationally televised games on the additional network. Having exposure on both networks creates more visibility for the NHL and will add to the growth opportunities of the sport.

4. Network competition. Between ESPN and the other eventual NHL network partner, there will be a healthy rivalry to outdo each other in coverage and innovation. Expect both networks to push each other for better coverage and content that will ultimately benefit the networks themselves as well as the fans.

5. NHL headed back to the worldwide leader in sports. It has been 17 years since the NHL last appeared on ESPN, and hockey fans have been bitter about the lack of coverage on the network since it left. I have fallen in that trap as well, but as the great Linda Cohn implied on our podcast, the network is not going to heavily promote a sport for which they do not own the television rights. This all changes that. We have already seen Steven A. Smith hyping the Kraken. Haters are going to hate, but having ESPN personalities talking about hockey is great for the sport.

6. Shoulder content. There have been no commitments around additional programming, but one should expect something like NHL 2Night to go back to ESPN on game nights or move NHL In the Crease onto one of the ESPN linear channels, meaning ESPN or ESPN2. This will draw in more eyeballs from a broad group of sports fans that have ESPN on by default.

7. ESPN.com. I have appreciated NBC Sports’ coverage over the years, but rarely have I felt the need to go to NBCsports.com for hockey content. I do like Sean Leahy, but I feel NBC never prioritizes its .com coverage. I find myself going to tsn.ca, sportsnet.ca, or ESPN.com instead. With the media partnership and platform of ESPN.com, I expect coverage should grow and landing on espn.com/nhl will become part of my regular routine. I should call out that friends of the Sound Of Hockey Podcast, Greg Wyshynski and Emily Kaplan have done a great job with their coverage over the last few years. If you have not checked out their content, you should, as it is consistently fresh and innovative.

8. Getting the gang back together. I know I am not alone here, but I became a fan of hockey watching the NHL on ESPN. There is already some excitement building for the return of the gang on ESPN, and I am on board. Gary Thorne has already commented on his interest in rejoining ESPN. The fans are clamoring for Steve Levy and the elevated presence of hockey with Linda Cohn and Barry Melrose. I also hope the US hockey market can get more exposure to the great Ray Ferraro and Gord Miller from time to time.

9. NHL out-of-market streaming package just got cheaper. It did not get any headlines, but by moving the NHL.tv subscription over to ESPN+, the package apparently just got cheaper. There could be some price changes coming up for ESPN+, but the NHL.tv subscription usually costs about $159 per season and ESPN+ costs $5 per month, or $50 for a full year.

10. ESPN commercials. I still love these. It should be fun to see Auston Matthews, Connor McDavid, and Mathew Barzal involved in some ESPN commercials of their own.

The NHL on ESPN will be great for hockey. The exposure and innovation this deal will have on hockey will be incredible and I cannot wait for Seattle to be along for this ride.

The hyper-local Seattle Kraken mock Expansion Draft

The hyper-local Seattle Kraken mock Expansion Draft

There are several NHL players with local ties that are possible draft picks for the upcoming NHL Expansion Draft, but I wanted to see if it was possible to build an entire team with connections to the Pacific Northwest. Against my better judgement, I went on an endeavor to create the most local expansion team possible that was still compliant within the rules of the upcoming Seattle Kraken Expansion Draft.

Rules of the Sound Of Hockey Mock Expansion Draft

The rules of the hyper-local Expansion Draft are the same as our other mock drafts that we have been completing at Sound Of Hockey over the past couple of weeks.

  • Protection Lists are based on latest updates on Sound Of Hockey (CentralEastWestNorth).
  • Selections must follow the NHL Expansion Draft Rules.
  • You are allowed one UFA-and-sign selection. Selection should pass the sniff test of being a legitimate option. (i.e. expecting to draft and sign Alex Ovechkin does not feel legitimate).
  • No side deals. Although we are aware that this will be a major part of the actual Expansion Draft, we don’t have good knowledge about what could be done here. So for the purposes of this mock draft, we’re keeping this off the table.

Rule addendums for the Hyper-Local Mock Expansion Draft

To make it hyper local, however, we have added a few additional stipulations.

  • Any available Washington State natives that are eligible for the NHL Expansion Draft must be drafted.
  • You must have a representative from each US Division WHL team.
  • You must draft one former BCHL player.
  • You must draft one Alaskan native.
  • You must draft one former Idaho Steelhead.
  • If there are no available players from Washington State or US WHL Division on an existing NHL team, then and only then can you select players from other WHL teams.

Washington State natives

This is the easiest part of the draft. We take Dylan Gambrell (SJS) from Bonney Lake, Derek Ryan (CGY) from Spokane, T.J. Oshie (WSH) from Mt. Vernon, and Tyler Johnson (TBL) from Spokane. Ryan is a pending free agent so he takes our UFA spot. That might put us in a bind later, but he is an obvious selection.

US Division WHL team

Spokane is covered with Ryan and Johnson so we need to make sure Seattle, Everett, Tri-City, and Portland have representation. We also need to make sure we have the positional requirement of 14 forwards, nine defensemen, and three goaltenders. I am going to prioritize goalies first since that is allegedly an important position (though I don’t really buy that).

  • Adin Hill (ARI) played for the Portland Winterhawks for two seasons and is probably one of the best goalies we can get right now.
  • Eric Comrie (WPG) will be our Tri-City Americans representative. He played 168 regular season games over four seasons for the Americans.
  • Calvin Pickard (played for Seattle) and Chris Driedger (played for Tri-City) are both pending UFAs. We cannot select them due to already using our UFA signing on Derek Ryan.
  • The only US Division goalie left is Landon Bow in Dallas. Bow played 23 regular season games for the Seattle Thunderbirds.
  • We still do not have the Everett Silvertips represented, but there are two available in Florida, Radko Gudas and Noah Juulsen. Neither is having a very strong year, but I am going to select Juulsen because he is young and has potential.

BCHL, Alaskan and Steelhead player requirements

Now that we have our US Division WHL players selected, let us identify our BCHL player, our Alaskan native, and our Idaho Steelhead.

  • For our BCHL player, we are going to select Troy Stecher (DET). Stecher played for the Penticton Vees for three seasons before playing collegiately in North Dakota. Coincidentally, Stecher could be the best player available from the Red Wings.
  • Alaska. This one is challenging. Right now there is only one NHL player from Alaska, former Seattle Thunderbird Nate Thompson. He would be perfect and would check multiple boxes. The issue is that he is a pending UFA and we already selected our UFA signing in Derek Ryan. We could go after Washington Capital Pheonix Copley, but we select T.J. Oshie from the Caps. Digging deeper, I also scoured the alumni from the University of Alaska Anchorage and University of Alaska Fairbanks with no luck. Colton Parayko played at University of Alaska Fairbanks, but we are projecting him to be protected and therefore cannot draft him. We thought we were out of luck, but in the eleventh hour, we appealed to the league and received a waiver for this rule under the condition we hire Scott Gomez as one of the first assistant coaches of the Seattle Kraken….or we hire him for our digital media team.
  • Sam Carrick of the Anaheim Ducks played most of his first pro season for the Idaho Steelheads. Carrick is a pending UFA so per the rules, he will not be re-signed and enter free agency.

Low-hanging fruit

We have met all the core requirements across geographies and leagues, so now we need to fill out the rest of the team. I will now need to focus on WHL US Division players that I know off the top of my head could be available. Matt Dumba (MIN/Portland), Jake Bean (CAR/Tri City), Caleb Jones (EDM/Portland), and Ryan Johansen (NSH/Portland) will fit in nicely with the hyper-local Kraken.

The rest of the squad

  • Anaheim has several WHL players that will be available but only one from the US Division. As a policy of the Hyper-Local Mock Expansion Draft, we must pick him. Chase De Leo is joining the Kraken.
  • This might be a deep cut but the Boston Bruin with the closest tie to the Pacific Northwest is Cameron Hughes. Hughes played two seasons with the Spruce Grove Saints of the Alberta Junior Hockey League (AJHL).
  • Buffalo has a few WHLers on its roster but only one US Division player. Dustin Tokarski will be joining the team as a fourth goalie.
  • In Chicago we are going to select 22-year-old left wing Brandon Hagel who played four years with the Red Deer Rebels.
  • Colorado has a few options, but we like the thought of former Penticton Vees center, Tyson Jost.
  • There aren’t a lot of options in Columbus, but Calvin Thurkauf played two years in Kelowna so we are picking him.
  • From Los Angeles, we will take former Seattle Thunderbird defenseman Austin Strand.
  • Shea Weber played 190 games for the Kelowna Rockets. He is our pick out of Montreal.
  • As much as I loved Thomas Hickey when he played with the Seattle Thunderbirds at Key Arena, I need to select Kieffer Bellows from the New York Islanders. Bellows played one year in Portland.
  • Pretty deep cut here as well, but the New York Rangers only have two WHL players that are projected to be exposed in the Expansion Draft. Mason Geertsen is our pick. He played with the Edmonton Oil Kings and Vancouver Giants, but has yet to play a game in the NHL. Rules are rules.
  • Derrick Pouliot played four seasons with the Portland Winterhawks and is our pick from the Philadelphia Flyers.
  • Colton Sceviour also played in Portland for two years and is our only option out of Pittsburgh. Sceviour is another pending UFA so he will not be re-signed and will enter free agency.
  • For the life of me, I could not find a WHL player on the Ottawa Senators that is exposed and not a pending UFA, so we are going to draft pending UFA and former Portland Winterhawk, Braydon Coburn with the expectation that he walks to free agency.
  • St. Louis does not have many players with northwest ties, but Tanner Kaspick played four seasons with the Brandon Wheat Kings and one season with the Victoria Royals. Kaspick has yet to play a game in the NHL but is only 23, so he still has a shot.
  • Toronto is another team with very few players with northwest ties, but we found one! 24-year-old forward Adam Brooks played five seasons with the Regina Pats.
  • Rounding out the roster is Vancouver Canucks prospect Kole Lind, who played three seasons with the Kelowna Rockets.

…and I am utterly exhausted from looking at literally hundreds of hockeydb.com player profile pages.

Let’s see how we did.

We seem to be a little heavy at the center position and a little light at left wing, but we’re hoping some of the centers we took can shift over.

Even with the constraints of the rule addendums for the Hyper-Local Mock Expansion Draft, there are some players that could be candidates for the Kraken. Hill, Bean, Jones, Stecher, Oshie, Gambrell, and Bellows are probably on a short-list at Kraken HQ.

I hope you enjoyed a lighter look at the Expansion Draft.

Sound Of Hockey Mock Seattle Kraken Expansion Draft #2

Sound Of Hockey Mock Seattle Kraken Expansion Draft #2

Let’s get something out in the open right now: The Seattle Kraken’s Expansion Draft strategy is going to look a lot different from this mock version. You bet your bottom dollar that Kraken general manager Ron Francis is going to work the phones, especially with cap-strapped franchises, and see what they can land as sweeteners. 

But hypothetically, if Seattle didn’t make any side deals, this is my closest guess on what might happen.  

In addition to every pick, I’ll explain my thought process and offer a “confidence rating,” meaning how confident I am in this player being destined for Seattle. 

Here goes nothing. 

Rules of the Sound Of Hockey Mock Expansion Draft

  • Protection lists are based on latest updates on Sound Of Hockey (CentralEastWestNorth).
  • Selections must follow the NHL Expansion Draft Rules.
  • You are allowed one UFA-and-sign selection. Selection should pass the sniff test of being a legitimate option (i.e. expecting to draft and sign Alex Ovechkin does not feel legitimate).
  • No side deals. Although we are aware that this will be a major part of the actual Expansion Draft, we don’t have enough insider knowledge about what could be done here or what the Kraken would actually try to pull off. So for the purposes of this mock draft, we’re keeping this off the table.

The Expansion Draft picks

Anaheim: Josh Mahura — I love the idea of Mahura and the 22-year-old puck-moving blueliner is worth a look here. Confidence Level (CL): 8 out of 10

Arizona: Adin Hill — Hill is a trendy choice and for good reason. Young and capable goaltenders are hard to find and Hill has been terrific in his two starts this season for the Coyotes, who don’t boast the most inspiring potential exposure list. CL: 9

Boston: Jeremy Lauzon — I’m really bullish on Lauzon’s potential. At just 23 years old, he’s worth a sniff for Seattle, even with the Bruins’ pretty healthy list of potential players. (CL): 7

Buffalo: Henri Jokiharju — The former Portland Winterhawk star hasn’t broken out quite yet, but there’s still plenty more time for the 21-year-old to develop. His offensive upside is worth a peek. CL: 8.   

Calgary: Sam Bennett — Bennett’s 2020-21 season has been nothing short of a disaster, but for now, his pedigree is worth a look. With reported trade requests, there’s a strong chance Bennett isn’t in the Flames organization by the Expansion Draft. CL: 6.

Carolina: Jake Bean — Bean is a Sound Of Hockey favorite and I’m firmly on the bandwagon. The former Tri-City American rearguard is playing regular minutes as a 22-year-old and he’s someone you could build the defensive corps around. CL: 9.

Columbus: Kevin StenlundTo me, it’s between Stenlund and defensemen Gabriel Carlsson or Dean Kukan, but Stenlund’s progression this season is too encouraging to pass up. His ability to play center is a huge plus, too. There is a chance, however, that he’s playing his way into protection with seven points in 13 games. CL: 7. 

Colorado: Devon Toews — Toews is a slam dunk choice for the Kraken. However, I doubt the Avalanche will let one of their best blueliners go for nothing. Colorado screams side deal. CL: 7.

Chicago: Nikita Zadorov — Zadorov is a rather large defenseman who’s a good plug-and-play option on Seattle’s blueline. CL: 7. 

Dallas: Julius Honka — Honka’s professional career hasn’t gone well, but maybe the first-round pick in 2014 still has more to give. CL: 5.

Detroit: Troy Stetcher — Stetcher is the best player available from Detroit, and even though there are a lot of great options for defensemen in the Expansion Draft, nabbing Stetcher who can contribute from the get-go is a good proposition for Seattle. He’s also a good candidate to be flipped. CL: 6.

Edmonton: Tyler Benson — Quite frankly, there aren’t a ton of great options in our Edmonton projection and Benson is a good depth option with some upside.  CL: 6. 

Florida: Chris Driedger — Is Driedger the Kraken’s goalie of the future? Driedger, 26, never broke through with Ottawa, but he’s been nothing short of fantastic for Florida this season, with a .818 quality starts percentage. We’ll see how that number changes when the sample size grows, but I love taking a stab at someone like Driedger, who even posted good numbers last season. His contract is up after this season, so this would be my one UFA signing, as allowable by the SOH rules. CL: 7. 

Los Angeles: Trevor Moore — The 25-year-old would be a good depth piece for the Kraken with room to grow. CL: 7. 

Minnesota: Matt Dumba —  I’m skeptical that Dumba will be left exposed. But he is a great selection if he’s available as an instant impact option on the blueline with star potential. CL: 6. 

Montreal: Jake Allen — I’ve been infatuated with the idea of bringing Jake Allen in a goalie tandem for quite some time. With good periphery numbers with Montreal thus far, Allen and Driedger are the product of that vision. CL: 9. 

Nashville: Matt Duchene — Sure, Duchene may be on the second half of his prime and carries a bloated $8 million average annual value (AAV), but finding a potential No. 1 center is too good to pass up. I’m not sold Duchene will be available, though, with trade rumors swirling around the Predators since a slow start. CL: 7.

New Jersey: Miles Wood — For a rebuilding team, New Jersey boasts some interesting options. Yegor Sharangovich and Janne Kuokkanen have both played decently high roles for the Devils this year, but Wood, who is tied with former Spokane phenom Ty Smith for the team scoring lead with 11 points, plays a rugged game and could be an identity-type player with the potential to produce offensively. CL: 8.

New York Islanders: Nick Leddy — Leddy is someone I’ve always enjoyed while watching the Islanders play and I love the idea of his smooth skating and offensive upside playing on a second- or third-pairing role in my hypothetical Kraken squad. What’s more, you’d think a Barry Trotz-coached defenseman has good defensive habits drilled into him, right? CL: 8.5.

New York Rangers: Brett Howden — With plenty of hockey left ahead of him and the ability to play center, Howden is a relatively easy choice from the Rangers, who are bereft of many exciting options. CL: 9.

Ottawa: Nicholas Paul — Paul is the choice here because he’s relatively young and has been decently productive for the Senators this season. CL: 9.

Philadelphia: James van Riemsdyk — Similar to Duchene, van Riemsdyk’s instant impact is too significant to pass up. CL: 8.5.

Pittsburgh: Teddy Blueger — While Blueger isn’t a sexy choice, centers are not easy to find. CL: 7.5.

San Jose: Dylan Gambrell — Gambrell is the choice because he’s ready immediately to contribute in a bottom-six role. The Bonney Lake, Wash. native’s local angle is a nice plus. CL 9.

St. Louis: Oscar Sundqvist — Ivan Barbashev and Sammy Blais are decent choices as well, and so is veteran defenseman Justin Faulk, but this theoretical exercise’s quest to acquire center depth favors Sundqvist. CL: 7.

Tampa Bay: Mathieu Joseph — The Lightning offer a robust group of players for selection, but when are productive 24-year-old forwards with upside available without giving something up in return? One could envision Joseph blossoming into a top-nine consistent contributor from his fourth-line role in Tampa. CL: 7.

Toronto: Denis Malgin — Malgin might be a bit of an off-the-wall pick, considering he’s playing this season in Switzerland. He’s still just 24 years old and three years removed from a 22-point season. CL: 4

Vancouver: Kole Lind — Lind is a great organizational depth pick with the upside to turn into more. CL: 8 .

Washington: TJ Oshie — No, I’m not taking Oshie because he’s Seattle’s preeminent local hockey connection. I’m taking him because he’s still damn good at hockey. And also because the Kraken will need to get to the salary floor and his $5.75 million AAV salary will help with that.

Winnipeg: Sami Niku — I went back and forth between Niku and Mason Appleton, but young rearguards’ upside couldn’t be ignored with this choice. Plus, he’s slowly earning more playing time. Winnipeg might be ripe for a side deal in order to keep players like Appleton and Niku. CL: 8.

Overall thoughts

As we see it, there are going to be terrific options to build a really exciting blueline. While the forwards aren’t super inspiring, and Jake Allen and Chris Driedger are a bit of a gamble as a goalie pairing, this team could be decent from the jump.

But, as we’ve discussed: Keep an eye on side deals.

Sound Of Hockey will have additional versions of the Mock Seattle Kraken Expansion Draft in the coming weeks, so be sure to check back regularly!

Josh Horton is a freelance writer, former newspaper journalist, and former Western Hockey League writer for the Everett Herald and The Spokesman-Review (Spokane). He is NOT a juggler, nor is he a former professional baseball player. Follow him on Twitter @byjoshhorton.