August 32-in-32: Seattle Kraken

Alex Wyatt

2022-08-21

The 32-in-32 Series is an annual event here at DobberProspects! Every day in August we will be bringing you a complete breakdown of a team’s Draft, and insights into their off-season movements thus far. Following this up in September, we will dive into every team’s prospect depth charts with fantasy insights and implications for the upcoming seasons. Check back often, because we plan on filling your hockey withdrawal needs all off-season long! 

Seattle’s first season was a mixed bag for Kraken fans and hockey fans alike. There’s always a whimsical feeling of excitement when an expansion team comes into the league, filled with promise and potential, and soon-to-be answered questions of “where will he play?” “who is going to get top deployment” and “is this what goalies are supposed to do?”. The Kraken surprised many with their lack of cleverness during the expansion draft, opting to forego the side deal strategy that had fantasy managers salivating at the haul brought in by the Golden Knights. The Kraken took a slower, less brash approach, and did not fly out of the gates like their recent expansion counterpart, but with this offseason showing some intriguing pick-ups by the Kraken, the cap implosion occurring in Nevada, and the dearth of high-end prospects, one is left to wonder when Seattle might surpass the flashier Golden Knights.

The Kraken finished the year 27-49-6 for 60 points and last in the Pacific Division, securing the 30th spot in the NHL. This wasn’t necessarily the season many Kraken fans had hoped for, but a mix of bad luck with injuries (instant fan favorite Brandon Tanev had a season-ending injury less than halfway into what was becoming a career year), and swiss army knife style players learning to play larger roles for a new squad, some growing pains were to be expected.

No position perhaps presented more pain for the Kraken than the boys in the blue ice, with both Phillipp Grubauer and Chris Driedger putting in the statistically worst years of their careers. The initial thought would be to say that the Kraken weren’t going to be a great team defensively, so what can we expect, but the data suggests the defense wasn’t the position to point the finger at. Seattle allowed the sixth least shot attempts per game, and the fifth-fewest counted shots on goal against. They limited dangerous opportunities better than most teams in the league as well, finishing fifth and sixth respectively in high danger shots against, and expected goals against, all adjusted to per 60 minutes. The Kraken goaltenders provided the second lowest save percentage, just barely hanging on to the .900 mark, finishing just above the New Jersey Devils. I remember much being made of the defensive players on the team, both forwards and rearguards, and the expectation being that Grubauer should fully justify the large contract he signed, and the data suggests we were partly correct. The team in front of the goalies played well defensively but provided little offense (7th worst in scoring chances and third for expected goals for per 60). 

The Kraken have added Martin Jones in the offseason to help attempt to solidify things in the net, and one has to wonder what happens to Chris Driedger given his contract and the fact a three-headed goalie monster isn’t necessarily what one thinks of when picturing a Kraken. All three goalies were rate-stat darlings early in their careers when playing 1b/backup minutes, and despite Grubauer excelling for the powerhouse Avalanche, all three goalies have struggled when given more expectations. Many predict, or is it just hope, for a bounce-back year from Grubauer, and if the Kraken defense corps can continue to provide the defensive environment they did last year, he will have every opportunity to do so.  

The Kraken were not expected to blow the lights out offensively, and they did not in the 2021-22 season. However, the team has brought in a number of solid offensive options- Oliver Bjorkstrand, Andre Burakovsky, and Shane Wright at 4th overall no less. The maturation of their young players,  the gelling of the team as a squad and the new blood brought in this offseason are sure to give the Kraken what they need to improve on their offensive output- 7th worst in shot attempts for per 60, 13th in SAT for percentage, 8th worst total scoring chances for.

A number of prospects made their debuts for the Kraken last year, and with another draft complete, the cupboard is starting to fill with some nice pieces.

The Draft

Round One, 4th overall- Shane Wright, C

Presumably, nobody, least of which the Canadiens’ jersey adorned with Wright’s name wearing fans in the Bell Centre, were expecting the highly-touted center to fall to the Kraken at fourth overall. Much was made of Wright himself seemingly unimpressed with his descent down the draft list after the Canadiens chose Juraj Slafkovsky as the first man off the board in the 2022 Entry Draft.

Praised for his all-around two-way game, and high floor, Wright seemed like the sure-fire first overall choice in a draft that was more about breadth and depth across the first round than a knock-em-dead cast of killers at the top end. As the NHL season carried on, consensus rankings began to lack consensus, and Wright’s position atop the mountain looked less than certain, and the supposedly unsexy, safe player gave way to a hulking power forward in Slafkovsky going first overall to Montreal, the gifted defensemen Simon Nemec being chosen by New Jersey, and Arizona choosing the offensively gifted Logan Cooley, before Wright was waiting there when Seattle took the mic.

Don’t let the naysayers fool you, while the Canadiens wait close to 5 years of NHL service for Slafkovsky to hit his exceptionally sized Breakout Threshold, Logan Cooley looks for someone to pass to in the desert, and Simon Nemec plays second fiddle to Dougie Hamilton for the next six years, Shane Wright gets to wield his Montreal-Canadiens-Draft-Table death stare to strike fear into the hearts of his opponents for years to come. I am kidding with all this of course, but there is a reason Shane Wright was the front runner for the top pick in the draft, and just because he slid down on draft day doesn’t mean all those skills have gone away. He has all the tools to be great, and is an absolute steal at fourth overall for Seattle, giving them a 1-2 punch of Beniers/Wright for a decade or more.

Round Two, 35th overall-  Jagger Firkus, RW

Firkus was a player that quickly moved up the pre-draft ranking boards as we neared the Entry Draft, and some circles had him inside of the first round. Seattle continued its strong draft with Firkus available to them with the 35th overall pick. A 36-goal scorer in 66 games for the Moose Jaw Warriors, Firkus sat just outside the top ten in points and goals in the WHL. Though not quite the gift of seeing Shane Wright still on the board at fourth overall, Firkus put together a spectacular sophomore campaign in the WHL and was a great get for a fledgling franchise. Firkus is known for a strong shot, and great agility on the ice, a wonderful compliment for the increasingly strong center core the Kraken have built. Predictable knocks for a young kid his size- Eliteprospects.com lists him as 154-pounds!- is his ability to remain in the NHL at his size, given the ease larger men would be able to knock him off the puck with his lack of size and strength.  Firkus won’t turn 19 until April 2023, and with no need to rush him to the NHL, he will be given time to develop his game, as well as physically, and he can continue to build on the 1.21 points per game pace he put up in 2022.

Round Two, 49th overall- Jani Nyman, RW

Nyman is a big-bodied winger out of Finland with a penchant for putting pucks in the net. At every level he’s played thus far in his career, he’s provided near-balanced scoring, giving just a few more or fewer goals than assists. 

Scouts state his handling is impressive for a young man of his stature- he is already 6-foot-3 and 215-pounds at 18 years old- with the expected concerns about his skating. He played against men in Finland and did not look out of place, nor was he a passenger in the offensive ranks. We will look for Nyman to improve upon his skating now that he belongs to a big league club, and grow into his frame. He fits into the ‘Exceptionally sized’ category per Dobber’s breakout threshold, so he will be a long wait, but will have plenty of time to learn to use his body effectively at the NHL level. He’s one of few players in the Kraken ranks that fit this type of player so he will have the opportunity to play if he develops well. 

Round Two, 58th overall- Niklas Kokko, G

With their second pick in the entry draft, the Kraken selected Kokko who also came up through the Finnish system with Karpat in the Liiga. 

A big-framed netminder at 6-foot-3 but only 185-pounds, Kokko has seen roughly 100 games at various levels in his junior career. He did make an appearance in the men’s league for Karpat last year and will aim to continue his development there in the coming season. Adding more goaltenders to the pipeline is a wise move for Seattle, who despite providing a decent environment for a goaltender to play in their inaugural season, certainly had their netminders let them down most nights. He joins Semyon Vyazovoy in the Kraken’s prospect goaltending ranks, though earlier in his development, may have a clearer path to North America given the current political climate. 

Round Two, 61st overall- David Goyette, C

The Kraken were certainly wearing a path to the podium as they made their way to select Goyette with their fourth pick in the second round. 

Having taken a sniper, a big-bodied winger, and a goaltender in the round already, they chose Goyette, a shifty playmaking Centreman from the Sudbury Wolves out of the OHL. 

Eliteprospects.com’s scouting team had numerous concerns about his decision-making, though remarked in the latter half of the season he seemed to make better choices that equated to better offensive performance. At 5-foot-11, he doesn’t quite have the frame to bully his way through defenders and needs to refine his game to use deception to enhance his natural playmaking abilities. As he matures and gets under the wings of player development staff on his way to the professional ranks, one hopes he can iron out the kinks in his game toward becoming a fully-fledged NHL pro. 

Round Three, 68th overall- Ty Nelson, RD

The Kraken kicked off round three with a smallish puck-moving defenseman from the North Bay Battalion of the OHL. Nelson is precisely the type of defenseman that is becoming a mainstay on blue lines across the NHL. He finished 5th on the Battalion in scoring and was miles away from their top offensive option on the back end. His nine goals and 42 assists show precisely the type of game he plays offensively, but his point production and minimal penalty minutes belie the fact that Nelson loves to throw the body and gets involved defensively as well. He hasn’t played a great deal of games to this stage of his junior career (the 2020-2021 season was wiped out for him), and given the longer time defensemen generally needed to reach their potential, Nelson will require a good amount of seasoning, but his mix of tools makes him a guy to keep your eye on. 

Round Three, 91st overall- Ben Macdonald, C

Not a great deal of detail exists for Ben Macdonald in the prospect ether, but those that have kept their eyes on him while he plied his trade with Noble and Greenough School (the alma mater of NHL centers Colin White and Kevin Hayes) have noted his proclivity for pressuring defenders on the forecheck and throwing the body. He does not project as an offensive juggernaut and likely was drafted for his energy, pressure, and two-way game. With Beniers and Wright as Seattle’s top two centremen of the future, they are going to need to draft capable players to play tough minutes and wear down the competition. With a bit of work and focus on his questionable skating mechanics, Macdonald can be a bottom-six sparkplug for the Kraken. He has another year of seasoning in the BCHL before making his was to the NCAA.

Round Four, 100th overall- Tyson Jugnauth, LD

With their first pick of the 4th round, the Kraken grabbed the lanky defender from the BCHL, Tyson Jugnauth. Jugnauth weighs in with 162-pounds spread across his 6-foot-1 frame and is a playmaking defenseman. As the Kraken currently lack a true bonafide powerplay quarterback, taking a few swings in the mid to late rounds on high upside offensive defenseman is certainly within their needs. 

Jugnauth put 50 points- nine goals and 41 assists- in 52 BCHL games for the West Kelowna Warriors (the team’s previous selection Ben Macdonald will play for next year). Certainly, Jugnauth will be a pass-first defenseman, and he uses his deception and puck-carrying skills to set up the offense. He will head to the NCAA next year and continue to hone his skills, and the Kraken and fantasy hockey GM’s alike can keep their eyes on how his skills translate to tougher minutes.

Round Four, 123rd overall – Tucker Robertson, C

Another OHL pick for the Kraken, Tucker Robertson is a smallish forward standing 5-foot-10 according to his draft profile. Scouts like his positioning, and remark that he thinks the game well, but some concerns about translating his skills to higher levels, and his skating mechanics have been pointed out as concerns. Offensively, his stats look fantastic, with this most recent season being a 41 goal, 40 assist season in 68 games putting him 17th in the OHL, trailing fellow Seattle pick Shane Wright by 13 points.

 Many NHL teams have experts on staff to assist with skating mechanic issues in their developing prospects, and it is possible he may grow and learn his way out of some of the concerns around his skating. The way he thinks the game inherently is much harder to teach, and if he manages to improve his feet, and continue to refine his hockey IQ, he could end up being a great grab in the 4th round for Seattle.

Round Six, 164th overall- Barrett Hall, F

A late birthday 18-year-old forward from the Minnesota high school circuit. He went unranked by NHL scouts in their NHL Central Scouting list, despite putting up more than two points per game for the last three seasons. A number of exciting prospects are coming up through the high school ranks, and Hall joins the ranks amongst  Brody Lamb, Jack Peart, and Kyle Kukkonen who have also been drafted by NHL teams. 

Scouts felt he stood out amongst the Highschool competition, where his puck handling skills were on full display, but when we moved up to the next rank of hockey, his decision-making skills were exposed as a weak point in his game. He tended to force passes into ineffective areas, costing the team possession, and not capitalizing on opportunities he could have finished himself.

He managed to get into 19 games with the Minnesota Wilderness of the NAHL, and small sample size aside, he ranked in the top 30, in terms of points per game.

Hall is very raw, and he will benefit from playing in the NCAA where he has committed to St. Cloud University, allowing us a chance to see how his skills translate to stronger competition and mature over time.

Round Seven, 196th overall – Kyle Jackson, C

Another North Bay Battalion product, the 19-year-old forward was the last selection for the Kraken in the 2022 draft. He’s provided balanced offense throughout his OHL career, also missing out on the 2020-21 season due to the OHL not playing games during the year. His 2019-20 output – eight goals and 14 assists for 22 points in 60 games shot up after the hiatus, with him reaching 30 goals and 32 assists in only 45 games last season. Also of note, he improved his plus/minus from a minus-24 in 2019-20 to plus-17 in 2021-22.  He was sixth on the team in scoring in 2019-20 and 4th last season, so this may be a sign of the entire team improving, and it does stand as such, as the Battalion flipped their record of 17-41 with a minus-125 goal differential to a 43-18 conference final appearance in 2021-22 with a plus-69 goal differential. In both iterations of the team, Jackson was a producer for North Bay and certainly progressed in the right direction. 

He is a 6-foot-2, 192-pound player, and with the time he missed to the pandemic season, he will likely require some more seasoning and maturation before he’s contributing to the Kraken’s NHL squad in a meaningful way.

The Off-season

Incoming

Martin Jones, Brogan Rafferty, Justin Schultz, Andre Burakovsky, Oliver Bjorkstrand, Michal Kempny

Outgoing

Haydn Fleury. Dennis Cholowski, Victor Rask

Incoming players. 

With their top two centremen of the future drafted in consecutive drafts, the Kraken are now able to work on finding some firepower to grow alongside them. 

Bringing in wingers Andre Burakovsky (5.5m for 5 years) and Oliver Bjorkstrand (received in trade for a 3rd and 4th round draft pick) gives them two very decent wingers who have both a good amount of experience and success in the league, as well as plenty of rubber left on their tires for a young team beginning to grow. 

Burakovsky is some sneaky good value for the Kraken, he’s often been a depth piece in Colorado (prior to last season where he saw top line deployment), and even with Washington prior,  given their formidable top lines, but paced to some fantastic outputs over the last several years. 

Since 2019-20, Burakovsky has paced over an 82-game season for 63/68/62 points, and having hit his breakout threshold right around the time his 40-point seasons became 60-point seasons, one can presume this is who Burakovsky is. Having him locked up from age 27-32 for less than $6m a season is a great deal for a team with cap to spend, and he should be given every chance to excel with prime deployment- albeit with a drop in linemate skill- over the course of this contract.

Bjorkstrand was a surprise acquisition, not only due to the quality of player he is but for how little the acquisition cost was. You’d think not only the asking price for a 27-year-old winger, in his prime, who has paced for at least 58 points each of the last three seasons, and four consecutive 20-goal seasons (I will give him a pass for only scoring 18 in 56 games in 2020-21), but the competition to get him would be much higher than the 3rd and 4th round selections Seattle paid for him. Bjorkstrand’s 0.5/0.49 and 0.47 points per game seasons became 0.73/0.79 and 0.71 point-per-game season right around hitting the 200 NHL games played mark, and it’s safe to presume that this is Bjorkstrand’s expected level of production. He shoots a tonne and has hovered around his career average shooting percentage of 12% for his entire career with no outlier seasons, he is a very consistent player. We will see if he lines up with fellow new recruit Burakovksy, or if the firepower is spread out a little, but all of a sudden, the Kraken powerplay looks far more formidable than last season.

Michal Kempny and Justin Schultz are upgrades over any outgoing defensemen, they are decent all-around defensemen, and although neither is known to shoot the lights out, Schultz should inject a little bit of offense into a blue line that could use a bit more firepower. 

Kempny saw time in the AHL last season and looks to be a no-risk depth add, whereas Schultz will look to bring a bit of playmaking to the back end for the Kraken. Schultz was once highly touted for offensive potential, but a career marred by injury- he has never played a full 82-game season, and only three times saw more than 75 games- has seen him fall well below what was once hoped for him. He tends to trend around 30 points per 82 games, and perhaps with more deployment in the Kraken system, he might be able to edge slightly above that pace.

Kempny signed for $750,000 for one season, and Schultz will cost Seattle $3m for two, so nothing ventured, nothing gained with either player.

If their goaltending doesn’t improve this year, the Kraken are going to need to score more goals than they did last year to give themselves a hope of challenging for a playoff position, and though they should be in no rush in the meantime, these calculated signings and trades assist with moving forward in that direction. 

On the topic of goaltending, no stranger to criticism of his performance himself, Martin Jones will join his third team in three seasons, trying to bring some stability to a crease that could use it, especially with Chris Driedger due to miss at least the first three months of the season. 

Jones isn’t the goalie he once was, he hasn’t posted a sub 2.94 GAA or a SV% north of .900 since 2017-2018 with the San Jose Sharks, but as mentioned, the Kraken defense protected their goalie in the top half of the league last year, and with some competition for starts, perhaps a tandem with Grubauer could see in improvement in the crease over last year. This is a young team that’s only had one season to play together as a coaching staff and a squad, so there will be kinks to iron out.

Outgoing players. 

The Kraken did not have a bevy of high-octane players last season and were able to keep their best players thus far through the off-season. As many expected, this was a team that was going to give a number of hangers-on ice time and deployment they were not getting or going to get elsewhere. As the season wore on, those that were going to stick around rose to the top, and those that did not. Now that the 82-game training camp has passed, the Kraken have a much better idea of what they have, and who fits where and as noted above, have started to build around that framework. 

Haydn Fleury and Dennis Cholowski were young defenders who were given the option to compete as NHLers and weren’t able to stick with the Kraken’s main squad and will be able to take their chances with another pro team. Victor Rask has been a bottom-six journeyman with a number of clubs to this point in his career, and will surely find himself as a depth signing with someone, lest he find an option across the pond. 

Resigned players. 

The Kraken re-signed a number of players that provided them with decent performance and depth last year, bringing back Ryan Donato, Morgan Geekie, and Kole Lind. Donato put up a career-high 31 points in 74 games and seemed to click with Eberle and Matty Beniers at the end of the season. One has to wonder if that line gets to play together to start the year and see if they can continue their magic.

Geekie managed 22 points in his first full NHL season and will feature in the bottom six, and Kole Lind, who got his first prolonged taste of NHL action himself, will likely line up with him. The line of Jared McCann, Geekie, and Lind saw 71% of the shots for in 35 minutes of ice time together at even strength, so that could end up being a threesome that sees some time together in 2022-23.

Keep an eye on Kraken prospect updates throughout the season on Dobber Prospects or my in-season column The Century Mark.

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