No NHL head coach should be feeling secure these days.
Not after the surprise firing of Vegas Golden Knights head man Gerard Gallant on Wednesday morning. Gallant was in his third season with Vegas and is just two years removed from guiding the Golden Knights to the Stanley Cup Final in the franchise’s first season of existence.
It’s not like things have been going poorly in the desert.
Vegas had a strong season last year, finishing second in the Pacific Division before being eliminated in an epic and contentious first-round series with the San Jose Sharks. This year, Gallant had coached Vegas to a 24-19-6 record and are three points off division leading Arizona.
Not usually the resume of a coach on the hot seat but Vegas general manager Kelly McCrimmon felt that the team – which had lost four straight at the time of the move – was underachieving this year.
“In order for our team to reach its full potential, we determined a coaching change was necessary,” McCrimmon said via a team press release. “Our team is capable of more than we have demonstrated this season.”
The story became stranger as McCrimmon announced that Gallant would be replaced by former Sharks coach Pete DeBoer. The Sharks fired DeBoer a scant 35 days prior to him landing back in the division with his former club’s most heated rivals.
WWT1: Was Vegas underachieving? Looking at the Golden Knights’
(Photo by Jeff Speer/Icon Sportswire)
underlying numbers they were one of the top possession teams in the league with the third best five-on-five Corsi-for percentage (53.4), are number one in scoring chances for and have the ninth best power play. Goaltending has been inconsistent, and the Golden Knights have the seventh lowest team save percentage. With the trade deadline coming up, the word is that Vegas may be looking to bolster its defensive play which could help. Ironically, DeBoer was let go in San Jose in large part due to the Sharks struggles in goal so hopefully he has figured out how to improve that as he takes over a team with similar issues.
WWT2: If you’re a coach on the hot seat beware of the Buffalo Sabres on the schedule. Gallant was fired the day after Vegas lost 4-2 to the Sabres in Buffalo on Tuesday. Earlier in the season, the New Jersey Devils fired coach John Hynes on Dec. 3rd, the day following the Devils were pummeled by the Sabres 7-1. The Buffalo Sabres are coach killers.
WWT3: With Gallant out, Vancouver Canucks head coach Travis Green becomes the ‘dean’ of Pacific Division coaches. No other head man in the Pacific has been with his club as long as Green, who has never guided the Canucks to the playoffs. Green is in his third season with Vancouver and this year’s team is the best he’s had so far. The Pacific has been a roller coaster this year, with seemingly every team still in contention and has seen three coaching changes all ready.
WWT4: The Gallant firing had the predictable reaction in Seattle as media and fans alike speculated about his fit with NHL Seattle. Would he be a fit? Obviously, Gallant is perhaps more qualified than anyone to guide an expansion team, having done so just three seasons ago. He’s known as a player’s coach which had a lot to do with his early success in Vegas, so he appears to have the credentials. Those credentials may land him on an NHL bench before NHL Seattle is ready to pull the trigger on a coach, however. Gallant will be highly sought after and the rate at which coaches have been let go this year, there are sure to be openings coming up.
WWT5: In non-coaching news, the Pittsburgh Penguins got a boost this week with the return of Sidney Crosby to the lineup. Crosby had missed 28 games for the Penguins and didn’t look rusty as he scored a goal and added three assists as the Penguins beat the Minnesota Wild to extend their point streak to four games. Pittsburgh has dealt with a number of injuries this year – Crosby and Evgeni Malkin being the most prominent – and yet are just four points behind the Washington Capitals in the Metropolitan Division. Now they get their best player back. Watch out.
WWT6: The NHL All-Star Game – set for Jan. 24 and 25 in St. Louis – announced a couple of new features for the skills competition. The big news was a Canada-U.S.A. women’s three-on-three game featuring some of the best players in the world. The American roster is highlighted by stars Hillary Knight and Amanda Kessel and the Canadians will feature Natalie Spooner, Laura Fortino and others. NHL Seattle will have a representative as pro scout Cami Granato will coach the U.S. team.
WWT7: Also added to the skills contest will be the Gatorade Shooting Stars event that will feature players attempting trick shots from platforms set up in the stands. That event joins the regular Fastest Skater, NHL Save Streak, Accuracy Shooting, and Hardest Shot.
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 email@example.com.
It was hard to believe when NHL commissioner Gary Bettman announced in December of 2018 that the league was granting Seattle an NHL expansion franchise. It started to feel more like this was actually happening when the team hired Ron Francis as general manager the following summer. Then there was the name and logo reveal and the hiring of Dave Hakstol as head coach this spring. In July, we met the first players at the Expansion Draft. All those events helped build momentum, but it’s going to finally become real when Kraken players step onto the ice at the Kraken Community Iceplex to open the franchise’s first training camp on Thursday.
NHL hockey is officially in Seattle.
There are questions facing Francis and Hakstol, which will be answered over the next three weeks as the team prepares for its Oct. 12 season opener against the Vegas Golden Knights. Camp is going to move fast as the team will play its first preseason game Sunday in Spokane against the Vancouver Canucks.
Portions of camp will be open to the public and for the first time ever, hockey fans in Seattle will watch their NHL team skating.
What will those fans see? What should they be watching for?
Here are some storylines to consider at Kraken training camp.
How will the Kraken lines and pairings look?
We know who the Kraken players are, but we don’t know how the lines or defensive pairings will look.
While Hakstol isn’t going to give us an answer on day one of camp, we can start to get a sense of who looks good together. We think the top line will be Jaden Schwartz, Alex Wennberg, and Jordan Eberle, but nothing has been finalized, and lines are always subject to change even when the season gets under way.
Over the course of camp Hakstol will put players together in different configurations. The same goes for the preseason games and over time we should see lines and defensive pairings start to emerge.
It’s important not to jump to conclusions at practice though. Hakstol will want to see everybody and at one point you can expect a number of combinations on the ice for scrimmages and drills. Take it all with a grain of salt.
Who is making the Kraken roster out of training camp?
The Kraken have some tough decisions to make at forward and on the blue line.
Up front there are 26 forwards in camp with 13 defensemen and five goaltenders. The top of the lineup – top six forwards and top four defensemen – seem somewhat predictable but what about the rest? If the team keeps 15 or so forwards and seven or eight defensemen on the roster, decisions are on the way.
How players perform in camp and in preseason games will determine who stays, who gets sent to the AHL’s Charlotte Checkers, and who gets outright let go.
Keep a close eye on guys like Morgan Geekie, Alexander True, and Carsen Twarynski up front, and Cale Fleury, Will Borgen, and Dennis Cholowski on the back end, as those players will be battling to make a lasting impression.
Practice will play a huge role in determining how someone is performing but so will preseason games. There are roster spots available which should lead to great competition on the ice. With this first camp, it’s one of the more intriguing questions.
Kraken goalies set for training camp
There is little question on the goalie front. Philipp Grubauer will be the number one after signing a six-year, $35.4 million contract during free agency in July. The 29-year-old is coming off his best NHL season to date and was nominated for the Vezina Trophy after guiding the Colorado Avalanche to the Presidents’ Trophy.
Grubauer is locked in, and training camp is where he’ll add the fine points in his game to prepare for the regular season.
Backing up Grubauer – or the 1B goalie – is Chris Driedger. The Kraken selected him from the Florida Panthers and signed him during the Expansion Draft. Driedger, 27, inked a three-year deal with Seattle for $3.5 million a season and is secure in his spot on the roster.
What to watch in camp is how the depth goalies look.
Most notable is Joey Daccord whom the Kraken picked from the Ottawa Senators during the Expansion Draft. With a ton of upside, Daccord, 25, is most likely AHL bound but is expected to be knocking on the NHL door in no time.
A raised intensity should be expected at training camp
The Kraken players have been on the ice participating in informal ‘Captain’s Skates’ for the past couple of weeks. Those skates were important in building some team camaraderie and to get their hockey legs back under them.
The action was akin to a pickup game at times, and while fun, there was no contact and intensity was lacking. That should change starting Thursday morning.
Jobs are on the line in camp and that means players are skating with a heightened purpose and drive. There will be contact. That intensity and physicality will carry into the preseason games.
Drills, drills, drills
Practice at camp will consist of a lot of drills along with some scrimmaging mixed in.
Hakstol will want to install his systems and ensure they become rote for the new team. Hockey coaches have systems for all occasions. There will be neutral zone systems, forecheck systems, break out systems, and more. What’s the system if you lose the faceoff in the offensive zone, or defensive zone, or neutral zone? These will all be worked on during camp.
The players should pick this up quickly.
Hockey is hockey and while Hakstol has an idea on how he wants to play, his players have seen it before. They’ve either played in similar systems in the past, or against them.
Who is going to play on special teams?
Special teams are key in the NHL and will play a role from game to game and over the course of the regular season. Over the next couple weeks, Hakstol will begin to learn who he’ll rely on to perform on the power play and penalty kill.
There are some obvious answers here.
We can expect players like Mark Giordano, Eberle, and Schwartz to be on one of the power play units. But who else? Will Vince Dunn be on the point for one of the two groups? Will Wennberg be on the penalty kill? Will Adam Larsson?
Special teams most likely won’t be worked on day one, and maybe not even in time for the first preseason game in Spokane, but by the end of camp we should know who we’ll expect to see on special teams once the season starts.
With the opening of training camp fully in sight, the Seattle Kraken made one more move to bolster the forward depth on their inaugural roster last week, signing 25-year-old Ryan Donato to a one-year, one-way contract worth $750K.
It’s an intriguing signing for a couple of reasons. First, Donato is coming off of a two-year contract that paid him $3.8 million in total, so with that in mind, he could end up being a bargain if he excels in a potentially elevated role with the expansion franchise. Second, the Kraken have signed a plethora of middle- to bottom-six forwards on one-year contracts this offseason, and the addition of Donato to that group creates more competition for some of the players that may have already been on the bubble to make the NHL roster.
Donato joins the Kraken after a season and a half each in Boston and Minnesota, then one season in San Jose. His best year came with the Wild in 2018-19 when he played much of the year on a line with Mikko Koivu and Ryan Hartman and posted 14 goals and nine assists in 62 games. In all, Donato has 35 career goals and 42 career assists in 180 regular-season games.
How Donato’s role gets defined when Seattle breaks camp will certainly be worth monitoring, as will the fates of players like Morgan Geekie, Alexander True, and Carsen Twarynski, to name a few.
A Boston kid lives out his dreams
Ryan Donato’s father, Ted, retired from a long NHL playing career in 2004 and quickly became the head coach for the men’s team at his alma matter, Harvard University. Ted Donato had been behind the Crimson bench for a decade when Ryan matriculated and joined the team as a freshman for the 2015-16 season.
College hockey in the Boston area is special. Four major programs inhabit the city, along with the Bruins at the NHL level, making the area a hotbed for the sport. Those four major college programs get together annually for the Beanpot, a nationally covered tournament for bragging rights that pits Harvard, Northeastern, Boston College, and Boston University against one another at a packed TD Garden. Youth hockey players across the region dream of one day playing in the tournament, regardless of where their collegiate allegiances lie. Donato was one of those kids.
Playing for his father, Donato helped the Crimson do something they hadn’t done in 24 years by winning the prized Beanpot championship in 2017. He calls the tournament something he “always wanted to win as a kid,” and he played a big role in pushing Harvard past a BU team that featured the likes of Jordan Greenway, Clayton Keller, Kieffer Bellows, and Jake Oettinger. Donato scored a highlight reel goal to help seal the Beanpot final (at about the 5:45 mark of the below video).
That Crimson team also advanced to the NCAA Frozen Four for Harvard’s first appearance since 1994, but lost 2-1 to Minnesota Duluth in the semifinals. In his third and final year at Harvard, Donato was a Hobey Baker Award finalist and the Ivy League Player of the Year after posting 43 points in just 29 games.
The impressive ride through the amateur ranks didn’t end at Harvard for Donato, though. With NHL players being held out of the 2018 Winter Olympics in PyeongChang, he got the call to play for Team USA before vaulting right into the Bruins lineup later that season. “Participating in the Olympics was a complete— man, it was a blessing, it was unbelievable, it was a great experience,” Donato said. “And then, in the NHL, I got to play for my home team, which was nice and the team that I grew up watching in Boston.”
He was able to draw some similarities between playing in those Olympics and joining an expansion franchise in its first season. “We basically were all new guys playing on different teams that met up when we had two or three weeks, and then we were playing in the Olympics,” Donato recalled. “So I think that’s similar in the sense that you’ve got a group of guys that don’t really know each other. You might have played together in the past or played on different teams against each other, but now you’re all coming together. And, you know, you got to have that team chemistry right away, which really isn’t that easy to form that fast.”
How will Donato fit into the Kraken lineup?
If you’re scratching your head to figure out how all those players on one-year deals can slot into the Kraken lineup, you’re not alone. Donato himself isn’t sure where he fits yet, but he believes that if he gets an opportunity, he will contribute, as he has already shown he can do on his previous NHL teams.
“I think, personally, I just have the confidence. I know that any time that I’ve been put in a position to succeed, I’ve done well with it,” Donato said. “And it’s just a matter of keeping that position.”
It has been a pattern that Donato’s ice time has dwindled later in his tenures with his previous NHL teams. On whether or not he feels he should have gotten more time in higher roles in the past, he thinks he probably deserved more, but to him, that’s just the nature of a professional hockey player. “I think if you ask any player if they deserve more ice time, I think they would say yes,” Donato said. “Every guy in every organization on every team thinks that they deserve more, it’s just a matter of proving it.”
Donato knows that he does still need to prove to Seattle head coach Dave Hakstol and his staff that he can do the little things on the ice that help the team win. “When I do those things, the coach is more willing to give me those opportunities that I succeed with. So I think it kind of goes both ways. You know, you’ve got to earn those responsibilities, but whenever I’m given those responsibilities, I usually do pretty well.”
The challenge for Donato is that for much of his NHL career to this point, he has played bottom-six roles, where the focus is more on stopping the opposition from scoring than it is about producing offensively. But he’s a shoot-first player that was clearly bred to put up points, as demonstrated by his eye-popping numbers at Harvard and by his performance at the PyeongChang Olympics, where he tied for the tournament lead in goals.
The lasting question for him as an NHL player is whether he can be successful enough playing on lower lines to get extended opportunities on top lines. Still, as far as Donato is concerned, wherever he ends up in Seattle’s lineup, he believes he can contribute. “I’m not too sure where exactly I’m going to slot in, but for me, I know I’m confident playing in any position in any part of the lineup.”
“Everything has been top notch”
After a summer of uncertainty about where he would play this season, Donato is ready to get started with the Kraken and has so far been impressed with what he’s seen from the fledgling organization. “Everything has been top notch. I mean from getting to know the guys and communication between players and coaches and staff and the equipment guys, the medical staff, trainers, the food, just everything has been top notch.”
Donato also raved about the new Kraken Community Iceplex, where the team has been holding informal practices in the lead-up to training camp. “The new facility, obviously, is unbelievable. I mean, it’s kind of an understatement to say that, but it really is unbelievable. They’re really trying to set us up for success here.”
Will Donato himself be set up for success? If he gets opportunities to show that he can produce, Seattle could end up getting great value out of Donato. But Donato also needs to seize those opportunities to rise above the bottom-six logjam that now exists on the Kraken 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.
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.”