ECH Scouting Spotlight: Week 3

Welcome to week 3 of our weekly series called “Scouting Spotlight”! Every week, we’ll highlight three players around the NHL who are potential picks for the Kraken in this July’s Expansion Draft. We’ll provide a bit of background on the players and why they’re worth watching this week.

Each Scouting Spotlight will finish with a “Game of the Week” which will showcase some potential Kraken players in an exciting matchup.

Here’s our picks for Week 3 of Scouting Spotlight:

Schedule this week: Tues. 2/2 vs. ANA 7PM PT – Fri. 2/5 @ VGK 7PM PT – Sun. 2/7 @ VGK 12PM PT

While his offensive numbers may not stand out as anywhere near impressive, I’m very excited about the first player in this week’s Scouting Spotlight. I’ll put it on record right now: I’m convinced that Austin Wagner will be a 20 goal scorer for the Kraken one day. You may look at Wagner’s player card and notice that he has six goals in his last 69 games. In fact, Wagner has only 18 goals in his 131-game NHL career. What could possibly lead me to believe that he’ll score 20 goals a season for Seattle?

Simply put, Wagner is the perfect project. He has elite speed and seems to get a breakaway every game but just can’t finish on them. All you need to do is teach him how to deke and he’s a 20 goal scorer. It’s a coach’s dream.

Oh, and if you thought I might have been exaggerating when I said elite speed…

Watch this short video from the LA Kings on game speed where Wagner (#51) is the featured player.

The video shows four examples of Wagner using his speed and acceleration to generate high-danger scoring chances. He blows by two-time Norris Trophy winner Erik Karlsson (twice) like it’s nothing, speeds around Oilers top defenseman Darnell Nurse in only a few feet of space, and leaves some poor Sharks defender so far out of frame that I can’t tell who it is. Yet despite all the offense he created, he was left with nothing to show for it on the scoreboard. That’s been Wagner’s career in a nutshell so far.

While some may see a frustrating player who can’t perform where it matters most, I see opportunity – and I think the Kraken will too. The modern game is built around speed and Wagner has all the tools to thrive in it, except one. While only a handful of players will ever have the kind of speed Wagner possesses, deking and shooting from close range are two of the most teachable skills in hockey. If you get a coach to work with him 1-on-1 to improve his finishing skill, the rewards could be immense.

One might assume that with all his potential, Wagner would be protected in the expansion draft. The Kings even signed Wagner to a 3-year, $3.4 million contract extension last September. Luckily for the Kraken, it appears that the Kings still aren’t sold on him.

In fact, from early returns this season, it seems as though the Kings have all but given up on Wagner. He was a healthy scratch to start the season and had been essentially replaced in the lineup by new arrival Andreas Athanasiou. Wagner only made his way back into the lineup last week because Athanasiou was placed on the COVID-19 reserve list. Athanasiou’s absence could be Wagner’s last chance to earn his way into protection consideration. If Wagner doesn’t convince the Kings he’s a better option by the time Athanasiou returns, he could be in position to be exposed in the expansion draft.

Schedule this week: Tues. 2/2 @ CBJ 4PM PT – Thurs. 2/4 @ CBJ 4PM PT – Sun. 2/7 vs. CHI 12PM PT

I explored the idea of Joe Pavelski going to Seattle last July in an article about how the (then unnamed) Kraken would benefit from a flat salary cap. At the time, Pavelski was coming off a disappointing regular season where his point totals were more than cut in half from the previous year. The idea was that the Stars would be in desperate need of cap space to re-sign their young players and could make a deal with the Kraken to take Pavelski, who I assumed would be in rapid decline, and his expensive contract off their hands in exchange for a high draft pick. Pavelski, although not a major contributor on the ice, would be a valued leader for Seattle and possibly the team’s first captain.

Turns out, reports of Pavelski’s demise were greatly exaggerated. He returned to top form in the NHL’s restart last summer, helping the Stars to their first Stanley Cup Final appearance in 20 years. This season, Pavelski picked up where he left off and has been on fire through the first six games.

Given Pavelski’s return to form, the idea that the Stars would have to send a high draft pick Seattle’s way to take Pavelski seems out of the question now. However, the Stars’ salary cap issues still remain. Top defenseman Miro Heiskanen will require a significant raise this summer when his rookie contract expires and the Stars will need to shed some salary to get it done. They may feel that the 36-year-old Pavelski’s contract would be the best to move given his age. If the Stars leave Pavelski exposed in the expansion draft, the Kraken would be wise to consider him.

Pavelski is one of the most respected leaders in the NHL, a fact that has become increasingly apparent as the San Jose Sharks haven’t looked the same since letting him go in 2019. They went from the western conference finals to last place in the west the season after Pavelski left for Dallas in free agency. Even with three former captains and one future captain on the Sharks roster, Pavelski was the one who held everything together.

As an undersized 7th round pick (205th overall) who wasn’t a particularly fast skater, Pavelski had to work harder than most to achieve his NHL success. Nothing was handed to him. He had to put in the effort every day in practice and prepare as well as anyone in the NHL. He expects that same level of effort from his teammates and holds them accountable. You’d be hard-pressed to find a better person to lead an expansion team in its first year.

Schedule this week: Tues. 2/2 @ WPG 5PM PT – Thurs. 2/4 @ WPG 5PM PT – Sat. 2/6 vs. EDM 7PM PT

In Noah Hanifin, Chris Tanev, and Rasmus Andersson, Calgary has a trio of solid defensemen signed long-term that they’ll want to protect from the Kraken this summer. As a result, the Flames will likely have to leave their captain exposed in the expansion draft.

Like Pavelski, Giordano is a veteran player who worked his way from being an overlooked prospect to becoming a star in the NHL. Giordano went undrafted and spent three seasons in the AHL and a season in Russia before finally earning a full-time role with the Flames. He was named the team’s captain in 2013 and won the Norris Trophy as the league’s best defenseman in 2019.

The question with Giordano is: how much solid play does the 37-year-old have left? While he’s no longer a Norris-caliber defenseman, Giordano can still play in the top-4 and provide a steady presence on the back end. His $6,750,000 cap hit is a bit high for what he brings now, but Giordano’s leadership could make that number worth it, especially for a team with as much cap flexibility as the Kraken. If the Kraken opt for a younger defense corps, Giordano would be a good veteran to lead that group.

Scouting Spotlight Game of the Week: Edmonton Oilers @ Calgary Flames, Saturday 2/6, 7:00PM PT on NHL Network

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How could the Battle of Alberta not be game of the week? The NHL’s fiercest current rivalry will be renewed Saturday night in primetime as the Oilers and Flames meet for the first time this season. The last time these teams squared off, they combined for 100 penalty minutes, including this line brawl and goalie fight.

Don’t let the inevitable drama distract you from scouting potential Kraken though! On the Calgary side, look for the aforementioned Mark Giordano to try to shut down the top two scorers in the NHL. Keep an eye on winger Dillon Dubé as well. He’s right on the edge of the Flames’ expansion draft protection bubble and has been an impact player so far this season. Last game, he delivered a questionable hit to the head of Montreal’s Jesperi Kotkaniemi that went uncalled, angering many Habs fans. Will he be the spark that starts the coming fire on Saturday?

On the Oilers side, watch Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. He’s a former 1st overall pick and although he’s a natural center, he’s been playing on the wing with Connor McDavid and has 10 points in 11 games. Nugent-Hopkins’ contract is up this summer and the Kraken could use their exclusive negotiating window to try to sign him before other teams get a chance.

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