This past week was a busy one for us here in the Pacific Northwest, eh? In many ways the Seattle Kraken officially joined the league with the addition of a roster and their participation in their first ever NHL entry draft. Now that we are a few days removed from it all, I thought I would reflect with all of you about how the Kraken’s first big week went.
Let’s start at the beginning shall we? Nearly 12 hours before the expansion draft television event, twitter started blowing up with insiders leaking the Kraken’s selections. This did two things: it created substantial buzz around the Kraken in a variety of ways and it made the event later that evening all but meaningless. The leaked picks got the hockey world going round and round, with speculation running rampant as fans and journalists alike questioned some of the selections in anticipation of a slew of side deals, much like Vegas had done during their expansion process. It quickly became the only reason to watch the broadcasted draft; what wheeling and dealing did Ron Francis have up his sleeve that was going to make watching this show worth it?
Well, if you’ve never watched a NHL hosted television event, now you have. Celebrities most forgot about years ago, equipment malfunctions, stiff athletes mixed with an unenthusiastic front office member, mispronounced names and jokes that never had a hope of being funny; welcome to the league Kraken fans!
All that said, this actually wasn’t as bad as it could have been. The crowd was obviously excited and their energy carried the broadcast at times. There were more Kraken players present than I expected and I thought they did a good job being excited and open to their new community. Remember, they had just found out their lives were being uprooted and that they needed to be on a plane ASAP less than twenty-four hours before going on stage. Finally, I thought the venue was really nice. Yes, they were obviously trying to copy the famous boat parades we’ve seen from Tampa Bay the last fews years and yes, they didn’t come close, but it was still nice to see it by the water. The cut-aways with Kevin Weekes to various Seattle locals were uninspired and low energy, but they did the job of showing off the city to an international audience that, let’s be honest with ourselves, mostly only thinks of it as full of man buns and CHOP zones. Like, there are octopus here too you know?
Now, onto the expansion picks themselves. We had questions going in about what kind of team Ron Francis and the Kraken wanted to put together and we now have the answer. Big strong defenseman who are still mobile and should grind teams down come playoff time will be paired with forwards who drive possession and will bring energy and intensity to every shift. It is a good solid foundation for the team’s identity especially when you factor in how versatile everyone is. Many of the blueliners are capable of playing either side of the ice while many of the wingers can slide up or down the lineup as they all settle into their roles and build chemistry with one another. Center depth is a problem, but we knew it would be as it is for most teams, much less one starting out with an expansion draft. Scoring is going to be the other issue, with only a handful of guys who have ever been on a 20 goal pace much less surpassed it. This should be shored up in free agency as the Kraken have lots of cap space to make a splash. Finally, goaltending. Chris Drieger and Vitek Vanecek should operate in a 1A/1B split where Head Coach Dave Hakstol will be able to ride the hot hand. I wouldn’t be surprised if we saw each of them pass the 35 game mark, but that shouldn’t be a problem as both have earned the right to compete for the top spot after leaving the crowded creases of their previous teams.
The real elephant in the room however was the lack of side deals. About half a dozen of the players chosen were uninspiring to say the least, only to somehow become more head scratching once it became clear there were no side deals that explained them. Ron Francis was reportedly asking a steep price to stay away from anyone a team had to leave unprotected and that may have come back to bite him; after all, any deal is better than no deal. But really, I think GM’s just learned their lesson from 2017 when Vegas fleeced many franchises and established themselves as an instant competitive force. Whether it was general managers who made bad deals last time, or new GMs that saw their predecessors fired, in part for how they handled the Vegas draft, everyone was ready this time. Ron Francis said as much, teams learned their lessons and didn’t want to make the same mistake twice; Seattle was just the unlucky benefactor of the rise in IQs.
But, that wasn’t the only draft this week for the Kraken as just two nights later Francis and company were off to the top of the Space Needle to make the first ever entry draft pick in Kraken franchise history. With the second pick overall, they took Matthew “Matty” Beniers, the dominant two-way center from the University of Michigan that I’m sure Ron Francis sees a little bit of himself as a player in. I, along with most of the hockey world, can’t say enough good things about Beniers as a person and a player. He’s smart and driven off the ice (he’s pre-med in college) and is able to bring that to the rink where his hockey IQ is as good as anyone’s, not to mention a motor that never quits. His offensive skills may be lacking when compared to others who’ve been honored at the top of a draft, but he knows it and has already said he’s going to work hard on improving in the offensive zone. With the dedication we’ve seen from him in the other areas of the game, there is little doubt in my mind that he won’t.
On day two, the Kraken kicked things off with Ryker Evans, an overage defensemen who breaks the Ron Francis mold as he’s a smaller, offensively focused blueliner. He improved this past season playing with the Regina Pats of the WHL to a better than point-per-game guy, so he could have a future as a PP quarterback for the Kraken soon. In the third round they took Center Ryan Winterton, who despite not playing at all this past year because of the OHL’s shutdown, had a good showing at the U-18 championships. As he continues to fill out his 6’2” frame and makeup for the development time he lost last year, he could be a guy to watch as the Kraken work on adding center depth in a year or two. Round four brought us Finnish defenseman Ville Ottavainen, a big defensively minded blueliner that fits with the identity the Kraken have already developed on the back end. He needs to work on becoming more comfortable playing the puck if he is going to make it as a NHL defenseman, but the size and physical edge he plays with is already NHL caliber. The QMJHL gave us the Kraken’s next selection in Jacob Melanson, a winger with Acadie-Bathurst Titan. Already physically mature and putting up a point per game in the Q, Melanson has all the makings of a solid late round selection. The first goalie to be drafted in franchise history was Semyon Vyazovoy, a Russian netminder who had a sparkling regular season in the Russian development league before a rough playoffs ended his season. With their last pick in the draft, the Kraken took Justin Janicke, a forward known for the consistent pressure he places on other teams with his relentless forechecking.
And with that, the Kraken’s first week of NHL events came to a close. Now armed with a team and the beginnings of a prospect pool, we get a short breather before free agency kicks off Wednesday July 28th. It will be interesting to see what they have planned as they look to round out the roster before training camp opens in late September. We here at Emerald City Hockey enjoyed watching all this week had to offer and we hope you did too.