Data Dump Saturday: Ages of NHL players

Data Dump Saturday: Ages of NHL players

For this week’s Data Dump Saturday, I investigate the ages of players in the NHL. Age will be one of the critical factors the Seattle Kraken will need to consider when drafting players in the Expansion Draft this summer. I thought this would be a good topic to dig into to help understand how most teams are built in the NHL.

Average age of NHL players

As you can see, the average age of NHL players has changed over time. Before you make any assumptions about the average age getting older the last few seasons, keep in mind the last two seasons are tough to evaluate as a comparable of the prior seasons.

Last year’s regular season was cut short by a month. The last month of a season is a time where teams tend to call-up their prospects from the AHL or possibly get their major junior and college prospects some games if their regular season has ended. These players will be younger and therefore drive the average age down a bit.

This season is obviously incomplete, so it does not have the late-season call-ups accounted for either. The shortened training camp and elimination of the pre-season also prevented coaches and general managers from getting a look at some of the younger prospects. So those guys may not have had the same chances at making NHL rosters out of camp.

Average age of NHL players by position

Nothing too surprising here other than it really illustrates that goalies tend to break into the league much later compared to other positions. Ilya Sorokin, Kevin Lankinen, and Ville Husso all made their NHL debuts this season and all of them are over 25.

Average age by team

Everyone seems to enjoy looking at the average age by team, so here you go.

Zdeno Chara (43.5) and Craig Anderson (39.3) are inflating the Capitals numbers a bit, but even when you look at the median, they are still the oldest team in the league.

Of course average age does not tell the whole story, so I plan to dig into this a bit more over the next few days to help paint a better picture of how ages come into play when building rosters.

As always, let me know if you have any thoughts, questions, or suggestions for Data Dump Saturday. Enjoy your weekend.

Looking back at Vegas’ Expansion Draft haul

Looking back at Vegas’ Expansion Draft haul

If you glance at Vegas’ crop of players in the 2017 Expansion Draft, and then back at their current Championship-caliber roster, you may wonder: How did we get here? 

Vegas built a roster immediately ready to contend largely because of crafty side deals, but there were still some noteworthy selections purely from the Expansion Draft.

Although only five players actually selected in the draft remain with Vegas today, 15 players on the Golden Knights’ roster can be tracked back to Expansion Draft deals.

Here’s a look at where all these players are today: 

Anaheim Ducks — Clayton Stoner, D

Stoner’s selection was contingent on the Ducks dealing promising prospect Shea Theodore to Vegas, presumingly so Vegas wouldn’t take defensemen Sami Vatanen or Josh Manson. 

Stoner, a former Tri-City Americans star, never played that season — or again for that matter. Vegas absorbed the final year of his $3.25 million contract and the Golden Knights gained a player that could feasibly win a Norris Trophy in Theodore. 

Despite never suiting up for Vegas, Stoner joined the Vegas Jr. Golden Knights coaching staff after he retired in 2019 and is currently an associate coach for the South Island Royals under-18 AAA team, based out of Victoria, British Columbia. 

Arizona Coyotes — Teemu Pulkkinen, LW

Pulkkinen never played for Vegas after the Golden Knights selected him in the Expansion Draft, even though he put up 65 points for the AHL’s Chicago Wolves in 2017-18. Pulkkinen left North America after that season and is currently playing for Lokomotiv Yaroslavl in the KHL, Russia’s top league. 

Boston Bruins — Colin Miller, D

Miller was a key contributor for Vegas in its first two seasons before being traded to Buffalo before the 2019-20 season for a second-round pick in 2021 and a fifth-round pick in 2022. Miller is still with the Sabres and remains a potent offensive threat, but his ice time has dipped a bit since moving on from Vegas. 

Buffalo Sabres — William Carrier, LW

The Sabres slid over a sixth-round pick in the 2017 NHL Entry Draft to ensure the Golden Knights selected Carrier instead of someone like goaltender Linus Ullmark. Carrier remains a solid depth piece for the Golden Knights. 

With that sixth-round pick, Vegas selected Jiri Patera, who starred for the WHL’s Brandon Wheat Kings and was signed to an entry-level contract. He’s listed on the Henderson Silver Knights’ roster, the Golden Knights’ American Hockey League (AHL) affiliate. 

Calgary Flames — Deryk Engelland, D

Engelland, who was beloved during his time with the Las Vegas Wranglers of the ECHL in the early 2000s, was a feel-good story and a valuable contributor for the Golden Knights until his retirement following the 2019-20 season. Engelland is sticking around in Nevada and working for the Vegas Golden Knights Foundation as the special assistant to the owner. 

Carolina Hurricanes — Connor Brickley, C

The Hurricanes, under the leadership of future Seattle Kraken general manager Ron Francis, dangled a fifth-round pick out to Vegas on the condition the Golden Knights took pending free agent Connor Brickley, who signed with Florida that offseason.

After a season with the Panthers organization and another with the Rangers, Brickley played last season with EC Salzburg in the Austrian Hockey League, where he put up 26 points in 33 games. He isn’t listed on any rosters for this season. 

The Golden Knights selected Jack Dugan, a former Providence College star, with the fifth-round pick acquired. Dugan is currently with the Henderson Silver Knights and is Vegas’ third-ranked prospect, according to The Athletic’s Scott Wheeler. 

Chicago Blackhawks — Trevor van Riemsdyk, D

The Golden Knights selected van Riemsdyk and immediately flipped him, along with a seventh-round pick in 2018, to Carolina for a second-round pick in 2017. 

Van Riemsdyk signed with Washington in the offseason after three so-so seasons in Carolina and has been in and out of the lineup for the Capitals this season. 

The Golden Knights used that second-rounder on Jake Leschyshyn, who played in the WHL for Regina and Lethbridge and is currently playing for the Henderson Silver Knights, but appears to have lost some prospect shine since being taken No. 62 overall. 

Colorado Avalanche — Calvin Pickard, G

This selection seems pretty unassuming on the surface, but it has some interesting ramifications. 

Pickard, a former Seattle Thunderbirds netminder, never played a regular-season game with the Golden Knights, as he was traded to Toronto for a sixth-round pick and prospect Tobias Lindberg. 

Pickard, 28, remains an NHL journeyman. The Winnipeg, Manitoba, native is on his fourth different franchise since being traded from Vegas. He is currently in the Detroit Red Wings organization.

Lindberg has bounced around the league, too. 

The Golden Knights traded him to Pittsburgh for forward Ryan Reaves and a fourth-round pick in the 2018 NHL Draft, then the Penguins moved him to Ottawa, the team that initially drafted him, and the Senators eventually dealt him back to Vegas in the Mark Stone blockbuster. 

Lindberg is currently playing in Sweden, and Stone and Reaves are still integral parts of Vegas’ current roster. 

The 2018 sixth-round pick acquired in the Pickard deal was used on Peter Diliberatore, who has 14 points in 22 games for Quinnipiac University this season.

The 2018 fourth-round pick in the Reaves deal was spent on defenseman Slava Demin, who played with the BCHL’s Wenatchee Wild in 2016-17 and is currently playing for the University of Denver.

Columbus Blue Jackets — William Karlsson, C

There’s a ton to unpack here. 

Karlsson was one of the most noteworthy selections in the Expansion Draft, not just because of how influential he was in Vegas’ debut season, but for how much Columbus gave up to make sure he was drafted. 

The Blue Jackets traded their first-round pick in 2017, a second-round pick in 2019, and veteran forward David Clarkson (and the rest of his $5.25 million AAV contract that ran through 2019-20) so that Vegas would select Karlsson. 

Salary cap relief, along with ensuring forward Josh Anderson and goaltender Joonas Korpisalo weren’t taken, was the main directive for Columbus. But Karlsson blossoming into a top-line center that finished third in the NHL with 43 goals in his first season with Vegas is still a tough pill to swallow for the Blue Jackets. 

Karlsson remains a top-line center while Clarkson never played in an NHL game — he was eventually traded to Toronto along with a fourth-round pick in 2019 for goalie Garret Sparks. 

That first-round pick acquired by Vegas was flipped to Winnipeg for the No. 13 overall pick in the draft. Vegas selected Nick Suzuki, who is one of the best young players in hockey, and sent him to Montreal, along with the second-round pick from Columbus, in the trade that sent Max Pacioretty to Sin City. 

Dallas Stars — Cody Eakin, C

The veteran pivot played two-and-a-half seasons with the Golden Knights until Vegas shipped him to Winnipeg for a conditional fourth-round pick in 2021. Eakin signed with Buffalo this past offseason and has been a middle-six contributor in the Sabres lineup. 

Detroit Red Wings — Tomas Nosek, LW

The 28-year-old remains with Vegas as a depth piece and is a key penalty killer. Nosek is an unrestricted free agent this offseason. 

Florida Panthers — Jonathan Marchessault, LW

In one of the most puzzling situations in the Expansion Draft, Florida not only let Vegas select Marchessault, but traded away winger Reilly Smith for a fourth-round pick in 2018. 

Marchessault remains a dynamic contributor high in Vegas’ lineup and inked a six-year, $30 million contract with Vegas. The 30-year-old won’t be a free agent until 2024. 

Smith, 29, is also an important offensive producer for the Golden Knights. Perhaps Florida was eager to dump Smith’s $25 million contract after an underwhelming campaign in 2016-17. But considering Florida coerced Vegas to take Smith and Marchessault to avoid the likes of Mark Pysyk, Alex Petrovic, and Jason Demers from being taken, it’s easy to wonder what former Florida general manager Dale Tallon was thinking there. 

Also, Florida fired Gerard Gallant, who immediately took Vegas to the Stanley Cup Final in Vegas’ first season. 

As the internet would say, that’s a big ole yikes. 

But all was not lost for the Panthers. That fourth-round pick helped the Panthers trade for Mike Hoffman, who the Panthers let walk this offseason as an unrestricted free agent. 

At least you have that, Florida Panthers fans. 

Edmonton Oilers — Griffin Reinhart, D

Reinhart was the No. 4 overall pick to the New York Islanders in 2012 but never turned into an NHL regular. Vegas gambled on his pedigree, but after two seasons in the AHL with the Chicago Wolves, he signed with the Kunlun Red Star of the KHL last season and is currently with the Iserlohn Roosters in Germany.

Los Angeles Kings — Brayden McNabb, D

McNabb remains with the Golden Knights after Vegas signed the defenseman to a four-year $10 million extension early in his first year with the franchise. The 30-year-old rearguard is currently on long-term IR with a lower-body injury, but remains a key contributor to Vegas’ defensive core when healthy.

Minnesota Wild — Erik Haula, C

The Wild traded young forward Alex Tuch in exchange for a conditional third-round pick and Vegas’ selection of Haula in the Expansion Draft, presumably so the Golden Knights wouldn’t nab someone like defensemen Matt Dumba and Marco Scandella or forward Eric Staal. 

Haula played a top-six role in Vegas’ debut season, but a knee injury derailed his sophomore season with the Golden Knights. Vegas eventually traded Haula to Carolina for Nicolas Roy and a conditional fifth-round pick, and the Hurricanes later flipped the Finnish forward to the Florida Panthers in the deal that sent Vincent Trocheck back to Carolina.

Haula is now with the Predators on a one-year deal, playing in a top-six role.

Tuch, 24, is still with Vegas and playing a significant role.

With that conditional third-round pick, the Wild selected former Everett Silvertips star Connor Dewar, who is playing for the Wild’s AHL team in Iowa.

Montreal Canadiens — Alexei Emelin, D

After selecting Emelin, the Golden Knights immediately flipped him to Nashville for a third-round pick in 2018. The Russian defenseman played one season in Nashville before bolting to his home country to play for Omsk Avangard of the KHL, where he still plays.

That third-round pick Vegas acquired was used on defenseman Layton Ahac, who is currently playing for Ohio State University.

Nashville Predators — James Neal, LW

Neal played one season in Vegas and was a top-six player for the Golden Knights’ Cup run before signing with the Calgary Flames the ensuing offseason. The 33-year-old winger was eventually flipped to Edmonton for Milan Lucic, but he was placed on waivers on Feb. 13 and it appears his tenure with the Oilers may be over.

New Jersey Devils — Jon Merrill, D

Merrill was a depth defenseman for Vegas for three seasons before signing with Detroit this past offseason. The 29-year-old blueliner has two points in 10 games for the Red Wings this season. 

New York Islanders — Jean-Francois Berube, G

Berube never played for the Golden Knights — he signed with Chicago as soon as free agency began after the Expansion Draft — but the Islanders offered a king’s ransom (a first-round pick in 2017, a second-round pick in 2019, veteran Mikhail Grabovski, and prospect Jake Bischoff) so Vegas would take the pending free agent and New York wouldn’t lose someone like Brock Nelson, Ryan Strome, Thomas Hickey, or Calvin de Haan.

Berube played one season for Chicago and has bounced around the AHL ever since.

Grabovski, now 36, never played after the 2015-16 season and officially retired in 2019. Bischoff remains a part of the Vegas organization and is playing for Henderson.

As for the draft picks, Vegas nabbed defenseman Erik Brannstrom with the No. 15 overall pick, who was the crown jewel prospect in the trade that brought two-way dynamo Mark Stone to Vegas.

The second-round pick was flipped to Detroit in the package for Tomas Tatar.

New York Rangers — Oscar Lindberg, C

Lindberg played one-and-a-half seasons for Vegas in a bottom-six role before being flipped to Ottawa in the Stone trade. The Swedish forward is currently playing for Moscow Dynamo in the KHL.

Ottawa Senators — Marc Methot, D

Methot was immediately traded to Dallas for goalie prospect Dylan Ferguson and a second-round pick in 2020. After undergoing knee surgery in the 2019-2020 season, Methot appears to have retired.

Ferguson is currently playing in the AHL with the Henderson Silver Knights.

The second-round pick acquired by Dallas was included in the Mark Stone trade.

Philadelphia Flyers — Pierre-Edouard Bellemare, RW

Bellemare played two seasons for the Golden Knights in a third-line role, and the 35-year-old is currently playing in a similar spot with Colorado after signing a two-year, $3.6 million deal before the 2019-20 season.

Pittsburgh Penguins — Marc-Andre Fleury, G

With Matt Murray seizing the reins of Pittsburgh’s crease — oh, how times have changed — the Penguins slid over a second-round pick in the 2020 NHL Entry Draft in exchange for Vegas selecting Fleury and alleviating Pittsburgh’s goalie logjam. It also cleared $5 million in cap space for Pittsburgh.

“Flower,” as Fleury is colloquially known, is still in Vegas after leading the Golden Knights to the Cup Final in 2017-18, and remains one of the most beloved athletes in the market, if not the entire NHL.

Sure, Robin Lehner claimed the bulk of starts last year, but with Lehner sidelined with an injury, Fleury, now 36, has played at an extremely high level this season. He is on the second year of a three-year, $21 million contract extension with Vegas.

Almost ironically, the second-round pick Vegas acquired to select Fleury was dealt to Chicago for Lehner during last year’s trade deadline.

San Jose Sharks — David Schlemko, D

Schlemko was flipped to Montreal immediately after the Expansion Draft for a fifth-round pick in 2019. After two seasons bouncing between the NHL and AHL, Schlemko hasn’t played since the 2018-2019 season.

That fifth-round pick was used on Marcus Kallionkieli, who is with the WHL’s Brandon Wheat Kings. Brandon was previously owned by Golden Knights general manager Kelly McCrimmon, who remains the Wheat Kings’ alternate governor. Kallionkieli is a long shot to play this season in Brandon due to travel restrictions coming into Canada.

St. Louis Blues — David Perron, LW

Perron put up 66 points for Vegas in 2017-18 before returning to St. Louis as a free agent the following season. The 32-year-old is still playing a key role for the 2019 Stanley Cup Champions and is on the third year of a four-year, $16 million deal.

Tampa Bay Lightning — Jason Garrison, D

The Golden Knights picked up two draft picks — a second-rounder in 2017 and a fourth-rounder in 2018 — and promising prospect Nikita Gusev on the contingency that Vegas selected veteran defenseman Jason Garrison and took the remaining $4.6 million of his contract off Tampa’s books.

Garrison played eight games for Vegas in 2017-18, but mostly was stuck in the AHL for Chicago. He moved on to Edmonton in 2018-19 before jumping to Djurgardens IF of the Swedish Hockey League. He isn’t listed on a roster.

Gusev never played for Vegas, despite putting up huge numbers in the KHL. The Golden Knights traded Gusev to New Jersey when he was a restricted free agent, mostly due to salary complications, for a third-round pick in 2020 and a second-round pick in 2021. Gusev is playing in a key offensive role for New Jersey.

Vegas picked up former Seattle Thunderbird great Keegan Kolesar by trading the second-rounder acquired from the Lightning to Columbus. The Blue Jackets selected French forward Alexandre Texier with the pick, who is playing big minutes for the Blue Jackets. Kolesar has cracked Vegas’ lineup and has played in 10 games for the Golden Knights this season.

Vegas selected Paul Cotter with the 2018 fourth-round pick in the Garrison trade. Cotter has a point in four games with the Henderson Silver Knights this season. 

The Golden Knights nabbed defenseman Lukas Cormier from the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League with the third-round pick acquired in the Gusev deal.

Toronto Maple Leafs — Brendan Leipsic, LW

Leipsic, a former Portland Winterhawks star, played 44 games for Vegas in its inaugural season before being dealt to Vancouver for Philip Holm — who is currently playing in the KHL.

Leipsic is playing for CSKA Moscow after a social media controversy uncovering misogynistic direct messages prompted his release from the Washington Capitals last year.

Washington Capitals — Nate Schmidt, D

Schmidt struggled to make a huge impact with the Capitals, but developed into a bona fide top-pairing defenseman and a fan favorite with the Golden Knights.

Schmidt was traded to Vancouver this past offseason for a third-round pick in 2022. The 29-year-old rearguard is still playing a significant role for the Canucks.

Winnipeg Jets — Chris Thorburn, RW

In order to prevent Vegas from selecting Marko Dano or Tobias Enstrom — neither of whom are playing in the NHL now — the Jets flopped first-round picks, trading down from No. 13 to No. 24, acquired by Vegas from Columbus, in addition to a third-round pick in 2019 so Vegas would select Thorburn, a pending free agent.

Thorburn signed with the Blues in the free agency period. The veteran forward played just one game for the Stanley Cup Champion Blues in 2018-19, but still was a part of St. Louis’ Stanley Cup run. He retired soon after.

The third-round pick was flipped to several teams and eventually landed with New Jersey, who selected defenseman Michael Vukojevic from the Ontario Hockey League.

Vancouver Canucks: Luca Sbisa, D

The veteran defenseman played in 30 regular-season games and 14 playoff games in the Golden Knights’ inaugural season before signing as an unrestricted free agent with the Islanders the following offseason. Sbisa remains in the NHL with Nashville after the Predators claimed him off waivers in January. 


Reliving Vegas’ Expansion Draft triumphs really makes you wonder: What kind of magic, especially with a flat salary cap, can Seattle GM Ron Francis pull off this summer?

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.

Seattle Kraken Expansion Draft projections for the MassMutual East

Seattle Kraken Expansion Draft projections for the MassMutual East

We are continuing the updates to our projections for the Seattle Kraken Expansion Draft. Up next, the MassMutal East Division teams. If you missed the first two updates, the Scotia North Division can be found here and Honda West Division can be found here.

Boston Bruins

Bruins Protected List

Watchlist

With 10 points in 14 games, Nick Ritchie is on the verge of playing himself into protected status. Ondrej Kase (projected to be protected) has missed 12 games due to injury. Meanwhile, youngsters Jakub Zboril and Jeremy Lauzon are playing big minutes for the B’s. – Darren (original post here)

Buffalo Sabres

Sabres Protected List

Watchlist

Buffalo had a middling start, then got shut down for two weeks because of COVID-19 and recently returned with two straight losses to the Islanders. The Sabres are in last place. Forward Tage Thompson failed to deliver when he was on Buffalo’s top line early in the season and has often been a healthy scratch.

Journeyman forward Riley Sheahan earned a roster spot after going to training camp on a professional tryout and has the trust of Sabres coach Ralph Krueger.

Henri Jokiharju’s struggles are reflected in his advanced stats: 44 percent Corsi for (even strength shot differential) and -13 Corsi relative to his teammates that are worst among Buffalo’s defensemen. Jake McCabe, who is due to be an unrestricted free agent this summer, ranks first among Sabres blueliners with a 55.9 Corsi for and 7.5 relative Corsi. – Jim (original post here)

New York Islanders

Islanders Protected List

Watchlist

No changes from the original post here. – Josh

New Jersey Devils

Devils Protected List

Watchlist

Will Butcher hasn’t played this season and the young defenseman, a comfortable selection for protection this offseason, might have lost his spot to PK Subban. Subban hasn’t lit the world on fire but leads the team in ice time this year. – Josh (original post here)

New York Rangers

Rangers Protected List

Watchlist

The Rangers waived Tony DeAngelo and are trying to trade him after an incident with a teammate after a recent game against Pittsburgh. – Andy (original post here)

Philadelphia Flyers

Flyers Protected List

Watchlist

No changes from the original post here. – Andy

Pittsburgh Penguins

Penguins Protected List

Watchlist

No changes from the original post here. – Andy

Washington Capitals

Capitals Protected List

Watchlist

Hand up, leaving Vitek Vanecek off my protected list was an oversight. The 25-year-old netminder owns a .906 save percentage this season. It also may be worth wondering if the Capitals aren’t as big of fans of Jonas Siegenthaler as we are. The 23-year-old blueliner has drawn into the lineup in only six of 13 games this season. –Josh (original post here)

WHL U.S. Division’s short season all about player development

WHL U.S. Division’s short season all about player development

It will just be 24 games. The games will be against just four different opponents. There will be no playoffs, no overnight trips, no long swings through the Canadian prairies, and there will be no fans in the building. Without a doubt, the 2021 Western Hockey League’s U.S. Division will look different this season.

Now that the Washington State government has given the WHL the green light, the U.S. Division will open the season on March 19th. It will be over a year since the last game in the division and it comes at a time that normally is reserved for playoff races and positioning.

“It’s nice to finally know that we’re going to play some hockey,” Seattle Thunderbirds forward Lucas Ciona says. “It’s been a tough year just sitting at home, training, and doing schoolwork. It’s nice to know that we’re getting to go back to Seattle, and it will be good to be with the guys again.”

While not the most ideal situation the short season will allow the Thunderbirds, Everett Silvertips, Portland Winterhawks, Tri-City Americans, and Spokane Chiefs to play hockey.

Pulling this off will be a financial burden on the five clubs as they rely heavily on gate receipts for income. There will be none of that.

On the surface it begs the question of why go through with it at all?

The WHL is one of the top development leagues in the world — last year’s draft saw 28 WHL players selected — and it’s that development that’s the driving influence for the league and its member teams.

“It’s definitely about developing our group but it’s also about making sure that these kids have as much normalcy as possible,” Seattle general manager Bil La Forge says. “Hockey is a great game, and they get to play it. We want to develop our team and our young men. We want to reward these kids for the hard work they’ve put in.”

It’s been a long summer for U.S. Division players

The last game played in the division was a 3-0 win by the Spokane Chiefs over the visiting Kamloops Blazers on March 10th, 2020. Two days later the league and most of the world shut down due to concerns over the growing Covid-19 pandemic.

Players were sent home and the playoffs, Championship Series, and Memorial Cup were all shelved.

Ciona, 17, was one of those players. The 6-foot-2, 200-pound winger had just finished his rookie season in Seattle and was suddenly homebound in Edmonton. Since then, he and the rest of the WHL’s players have been waiting for the call to return to their teams.

“We’ve been finding ways to keep busy,” Ciona says. “I’ve been working out and doing schoolwork. I really enjoy working out, so it hasn’t been too bad. Skating, going out to the ODR’s (outdoor rinks). We’ve been going full pads at the ODR so it gets a little competitive.”

Endless split squats and lunges are great for a player’s endurance. So is playing pick-up games on an outdoor rink, but for young players to develop, they need to play real games. The speed, competition, and intensity just aren’t the same.

To find that edge, Ciona was one of many U.S. Division players who hit the ice last November to get ice time by playing in Junior A leagues like the Alberta Junior Hockey League. He got into four games with the Spruce Grove Saints as did a handful of his Seattle teammates like Kai Uchacz, Tyrel Bauer, and Matthew Rempe.

Other players found some ice time in other Junior A leagues. Among those guys were Everett Silvertips and Montreal Canadiens prospect defenseman Gianni Fairbrother who played for the Nanaimo Clippers of the BCHL and was joined by teammate Dylan Anderson who played for the Cowichan Valley Capitals.

Those stints ended up being short-lived as the Canadian provinces ultimately would shut down all hockey leagues after just a few games. By the time these players get through quarantine and back on the ice for abbreviated training camps, any advantage they earned will be long gone.

“It’s going to be a whole other thing,” Ciona adds. “We’ll be coming back and it will be another fresh start for everybody. Nobody has been practicing or playing too much so it will be interesting.”

No fans and new safety protocols for U.S. Division

When the league starts up in March there will be no fans allowed in the building.

The U.S. Division has become known for loud, large, and intimidating crowds in its arenas. Last season, four of the division’s five teams were in the top seven in WHL attendance. It’s going to be a bit quieter this year and is something the players will have to adjust to.

“We’re going to have to learn to create our own emotion,” La Forge says. “The one thing that this has taught all of us is to not take this game for granted. Not being able to do it for 12 months, I know the excitement I have, and I won’t be on the ice. I don’t think emotion will be a problem.”

Having to create that emotion without a crowd is another skill these players can develop this season. It’s one that should pay off when fans are able to come back to the arenas.

Emotion may come easier than one might think when you consider the schedule being played. The U.S. Division has some well-established and heated, rivalries. The heat is already there, fans or not.

“There’s always some bad blood between Everett and Portland,” Ciona says. “I think it’s going to be getting in those games, getting riled up for those. It’s kind of like the Battle of Alberta here. That’s still pretty heavy even without fans. It’s going to be fun to play those rivalry games even if we don’t have a crowd.”

Another big adjustment for players will be the safety protocols required to play. They’re aware that the NHL has had its share of troubles with Covid cases popping up which has led to the postponement of games with a lot of questions and scrutiny.

The WHL doesn’t want the same hurdles, and it will require both the clubs and the players to follow the protocols and stay safe.

“We’re going to be on top of that and we feel really comfortable with the protocol set in place,” La Forge says. “We think if we do that, we’ll have a really good chance. It’s not something you can guarantee but we’re going to give ourselves a chance. If there’s an issue we’ll address it and deal with it, but we’re confident with the group of young men that we have that we’re going to put our best foot forward and give ourselves a chance.”

WHL teams have been in touch with their players during the shutdown, reminding them of the seriousness of staying safe. The motivation should be easy. Having missed over a year of hockey, getting players 16 to 20 years old to toe the line should not be too hard.

“It’ll be hockey, hockey, hockey,” Ciona says. “There won’t be anything else going on for us. We’ll be coming from our billets to the rink every day. We won’t be out getting distracted by the malls or tourist things. We’ll be locked down, focused on hockey and being safe.”

Eye on the next level

Staying safe and getting the full season in is important to Ciona.

Like many players in the U.S. Division, this is his NHL Draft season. He’s on the radar, having received a ‘C’ ranking by NHL’s Central Scouting. Being drafted is a dream for every young player, but so far this season, he has not been able to be seen by NHL scouts.

Getting 24 games will go a long way for him to show off his progression from last year. He’s not alone. This coming season is going to give other Draft hopefuls a chance to shine for the pros as well.

“I want to be higher on that list,” Ciona, who had 13 points in 53 games as a rookie last year says. “I don’t want to be a ‘C’ prospect. It was cool and humbling to see my name and see that some of my hard work got noticed, but that’s not the end game. I want to continue to push and get myself higher on that list.”

Seattle Thunderbirds winger Lucas Ciona will benefit from playing hockey this year. (Brian Liesse/T-Birds photo)

First time NHL Draft eligible players are not the only ones who will benefit from playing this season.

There are many players in the Division who were passed up the last Draft, sitting on the NHL bubble. They are still eligible to hear their names called during this year’s Draft which is scheduled for July. Continued development could push them over the line but could also lead to a free agent signing, getting to play pro in Europe, or in Canadian college.

Incoming rookies will also get valuable ice time and a taste of the higher level of play the WHL offers. These are players that will be looking forward to the 2022 NHL Draft as well as restocking the U.S. Division and league with more talent.

Development is the key to this season but that doesn’t mean teams aren’t looking to win. There will be no playoffs to aim for, but hockey players and general managers alike are hyper-competitive, so winning is still number one.

“If they kept score in the warmup, we’d win that,” La Forge says.

Seattle will ice a young team that is loaded with talent and potential. They’ll be competitive but will have to deal with good teams such as the Portland Winterhawks – last year’s U.S. Division champions – and the always tough Everett Silvertips.

It’s going to make for a fun sprint of a season that will provide entertaining games for fans who will either have to watch online or on television. The coaches, general managers, and players will be ready to go on March 19th.

“I want to win every single (game).” Ciona says. “Obviously it’s a bummer there won’t be any playoffs, but I still want to win them all. We’re competitive, that’s been our identity and we want to show that. We don’t just want to get through the 24 games, we want to dominate.”

Norm Maciver looking for players that will fit in with Seattle Kraken

Norm Maciver looking for players that will fit in with Seattle Kraken

When the Seattle Kraken announced the hiring of Norm Maciver to serve in the front office, he talked about how excited he was to join a franchise at the ground floor. It played a huge role in leaving the Chicago Blackhawks, where he had served for 14 seasons.

It’s been a common theme among Kraken hires.

Everyone from general manager Ron Francis to assistant general manager Jason Botterill has expressed that same draw of starting a franchise from scratch. It’s an excitement that’s wrapped up in a huge challenge and undertaking.

Maciver has done it all in the NHL from player to coach to front office work. He’s faced many challenges, but the one in Seattle will be different than the one he faced when he joined the Chicago front office.

The Blackhawks were an established franchise. As the Kraken director of player personnel, Maciver now is tasked with helping the Kraken establish themselves in a similar manner. Winning three Stanley Cups, as he did with Chicago, would be nice as well.

“The challenges are totally different,” Maciver says. “In Chicago you’re dealing with a team that’s had a lot of success, that’s a little bit on the downside now. You’ve got contracts and you’re dealing with a lot of situations like that where here it’s totally fresh. We don’t have any players yet so it’s a matter of looking at what might be available in July and what players might be a fit for what we’re trying to do here…that just sounded so exciting and I’m looking forward to getting into it.”

Maciver will be watching a ton of hockey

As director of player personnel, Maciver will be involved in evaluating players at every level of the Kraken organization.

He’ll monitor the progress of young players in the American Hockey League, in the amateur ranks, and on the NHL roster. He’ll work with the team’s scouts, player development staff, and the general manager to ensure that the players in the system are on the right track.

He’s going to be watching a lot of hockey.

“In a normal year and season, you get your eyes on a little bit of everything,” he says. “You’re watching junior, you’re watching the American League, college and the NHL. You have to be aware of European free agents as well.”

With no players to monitor yet, Maciver will be assisting in the process of preparing for July’s Expansion Draft.

But its more than just scouting players. Maciver and the rest of the Kraken hockey operations team will get their heads together and establish the team’s culture and identity. It’s an underrated aspect to putting together a club and one that again, will be put together from the ground floor in Seattle.

“It’s something you want to establish from day one,” he says. “You want it for the players you’re going to initially acquire but you want it for the guys you’re going to draft over the next few years. You want that in place so when they’re ready to become NHL players they can walk right into it.”

Maciver’s experience an asset for the Kraken

Thanks to some really terrible down years the Blackhawks were able to select two generational talents – Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane. The two stars were the catalysts to the Blackhawks winning Cups and can make coaches, general managers, and Maciver look good.

But it wasn’t as easy as that.

Chicago had to find depth players, guys who would compliment Toews and Kane and push the Blackhawks over the top. Something that’s easier said than done.

“It’s a challenge we saw in Chicago over the years,” Maciver says. “The core guys became really established as star players in the NHL. A lot of times when you brought in young players they were intimidated. A lot of young guys would defer. Meaning, every time they were on the ice with one of these stars they would give the puck to them, let them do their thing…for some players it’s tough to play with star players. It takes a certain mentality of young players to not be in awe and just go out and play. It is tricky sometimes to make sure you find that chemistry when you have those star players.”

Finding guys to do that is one of the challenges and responsibilities of player personnel directors.

Maciver points to Andrew Shaw as a player that the Blackhawks brought up and fit in perfectly with their stars. Not an obvious NHL prospect, Shaw was a fifth-round draft pick of Chicago but made his way to the NHL and contributed to two Stanley Cup winners in 2013 and 2015. Turns out he was a perfect fit.

Being in charge of player personnel also requires weighing in on trade possibilities.

While ultimately the responsibility of the general manager, Maciver will have input on how players with another franchise might fit in. Again, it’s something he had a hand in with the Blackhawks.

It ultimately comes down to trying to project that fit. How will the player targeted fit in with the new team? One such player was Dylan Strome who Chicago acquired early in the 2018-2019 season from the Arizona Coyotes.

After being selected by Arizona with the third overall pick in the 2015 Draft, Strome had a couple of lackluster seasons with the Coyotes. In Chicago, he posted career numbers immediately.

The Blackhawks saw a fit and made the trade.

“In the case of Dylan, in Arizona they had a lot of young guys,” Maciver says of the trade. “We had an opportunity in Chicago, he had had chemistry in junior with (Chicago center Alex) Debrincat. They were dynamic in junior so the thinking at the time was this could be an opportunity for both of them to hopefully do similar to what they accomplished in junior. Dylan has progressed nicely in Chicago.”

The challenge of scouting for July

Obviously, the hockey world is different than it’s been every other season. Most NHL arenas are not allowing fans, some are allowing scouts, and there has been very little amateur hockey to watch.

The Kraken will have to find players for whom they may not have had as many viewings as they’d prefer.

Even at the AHL level things will be different for Maciver. Seattle’s affiliate in Palm Springs won’t be ready to play until the 2022 season but the team will need minor league players for its first year. The team will announce that they will split an affiliation with another AHL franchise for the first season.

Maciver will have to monitor those players to judge their progress towards becoming NHL regulars. Having prospects split may lead to some complications.

“It can be a challenge but it’s not something that hasn’t happened before,” he says. “Back 30 years ago that was more of the norm in the AHL. Virtually all of the teams were dual affiliates. I know from my own experience; I was a coach in the AHL in a similar situation. Even though I was hired by one team, yeah, you obviously wanted to make sure your prospects continued to improve but you had to play the players who deserved the ice time. You want to make sure you have prospects that deserve to play and if they do deserve it, I’m confident they will play.”

Maciver and the Kraken have their work cut out for them with all these challenges. Finding the right players for not only the first year but drafting the future in the NHL Draft will be tough with hurdles the pandemic has placed in front of them.

Its coming quick and its not something Maciver and the Kraken staff are shying away from.

Maciver is currently living in Minnesota and until recently hadn’t been to a hockey game since the NHL shut down the season last March. He’s ready to go.

“The clock is ticking but I think it’s fun,” Maciver says. “Personally, just getting into the rinks again, seeing games live, you’re more confident talking about players versus watching them on video. I’m just excited about that. I think these months will fly by but since I’ve been onboard, we’ve had some really good conversations and I’m looking forward to more.”