By the end of the Seattle Kraken Expansion Draft, three (former) New Jersey Devils players had been selected. Kraken general manager Ron Francis surprised many when he decided to shy away from big-name players and expensive contracts to build his team.
To break down these selections I sat down with Sean Raggio who covers the Kraken here at The Hockey Writers.
Adam Larsson Selected from the Edmonton Oilers
The most notable former Devil heading to Seattle is Adam Larsson. Fans were ecstatic when the Devils drafted him fourth overall in 2011. The 6-foot-3 defenseman from Sweden was the top-ranked European-based prospect available in that draft by the NHL Central Scouting Bureau. He was expected to solve the team’s defensive woes.
While he wasn’t the savior New Jersey was looking for – they are still looking for that – he was a pleasant surprise. His time with the Devils came to a surprising end after the now-famous one-for-one trade for Taylor Hall. In retrospect, both teams received what they needed; the Oilers received a top right-handed defenseman the Devils received a top scorer.
“I’m pretty shocked right now, but I’m pretty excited to come to Edmonton,” Larsson told Oilers radio in 2016. “This trade was a surprise to me, but at the same time, I know how this business works. I know I’m going to a really young team, and they have a couple of Swedes there. I’m excited. It’s always shocking to get traded, but seeing the positive side, they have a lot of young players there and I think I’m going to fit in pretty good.”
In the last five seasons in Edmonton, Larsson had 68 points in 329 games. He may not be a Seth Jones or Dougie Hamilton, but he is a solid top-four defender who will play a critical role on Seattle’s blue line. He is projected to be paired with either Mark Giordano or Vince Dunn this season, which is an upgrade and should positively impact Larson’s on-ice production.
Larsson was one of Francis’ best selections. He’s a dependable defensive defenseman and will allow more offensive defensemen, like Dunn, the freedom to take risks. He should find himself in the Kraken’s top-four and may see a return to playing 20 minutes per game. He’ll be a mainstay on the Kraken penalty kill and can finally get out from the shadow of the Hall trade.
I really like this selection by Francis. Larsson has the opportunity to play with a better defensive core, probably the best of his career. Those players will help him continue to develop his game. There was so much hype around the trade to the Oilers that I think he needed a fresh start, and it doesn’t get fresher than a new NHL franchise. He will do well with the Kraken.
Nathan Bastian Selected from the New Jersey Devils
Nathan Bastian has only appeared in 48 NHL games, with six career goals and 13 points. The Kraken selected him over notable names like P.K. Subban, and more experienced players like Will Butcher and Andreas Johnsson.
It was a tough pill to swallow losing Bastian. Growing up, he was a goal scorer but transitioned his game and became a more physical player in New Jersey. He finished the season with 136 hits to lead the team. He was also an integral part of the Devils’ fourth line, along with Miles Wood and Michael McLeod.
“I don’t know how many people go through their career and their game changes as drastically as mine has,” said Bastian during his exit interview with the Devils. “When I was younger I was scoring goals and toe-dragging. I don’t have the skills to do that at this level, and it is a matter of knowing your game, believing in it, and finding a way to contribute.”
Even though Bastian wasn’t given a ton of ice time last season, he made the most of that time as a depth player, which is increasingly important in the NHL. He provides energy and can be utilized on the penalty kill.
Despite a defense-heavy draft, the Kraken passed on notable defensemen Subban, Butcher and Ryan Murray to select Bastian. He is likely to be the Kraken’s 13th forward at the start of the season and has the potential to become a perennial penalty-killer and fourth-liner in Seattle. Part of the reason why is because he knows his skill set and can constantly work at it. It would be different if he had to be taught to play that bottom-pair, penalty-killing role. He knows his role and will become proficient at it. Both Bastian and his contract were green lights, and Francis made a good pick by taking him.
I think it was a missed opportunity not to take Subban. Francis was presented with the perfect player to introduce a new franchise to the NHL and passed it up. Bastian is a respectable bottom-six forward who plays a physical game, but he only has a small NHL sample size to his name. Looking ahead, I think it will be difficult for him to remain in Seattle’s lineup. Sean makes an excellent point that he is likely the odd man out and could easily become a bubble player for the franchise.
John Quenneville Selected from the Chicago Blackhawks
Selecting John Quenneville instead of Nikita Zadorov from the Chicago Blackhawks was puzzling. Quenneville was selected 30th overall by the Devils in 2014. His transition from the American Hockey League (AHL) to NHL has not been smooth; he made his NHL debut in the winter of 2016 against the Blackhawks, but it wasn’t until March 21, 2017, that he scored his first goal against Antti Raanta and the New York Rangers.
He made sporadic appearances with the Devils over three seasons; the most he played with the big club was during the 2018-19 season when he played 19 games. Through 33 career games with the Devils, he scored two goals and three assists.
In June 2019, the Devils sent the 6-foot-1 forward to the Blackhawks for John Hayden. He only suited up for nine games in Chicago and did not earn a point. Most recently, he played in the AHL for the Rockford IceHogs.
Seattle’s pick became even more intriguing when it was reported that Quenneville was an unrestricted free agent. On Aug. 10, he signed a tryout with the ZSC Lions in Switzerland. He made the team and has one goal in three games.
If you at the player with no context, Francis made a bad selection. However, when you add context, the Kraken needed to take someone, and the players left available either didn’t fit into Francis’ plans, or he didn’t feel they were a good enough fit to warrant committing the cap space. Minimal risk, fair reward. Quenneville was heading to free agency and didn’t play in the NHL last season; it’s safe to say that this pick was just because the Kraken needed to take someone. Given the current makeup of the roster, it was probably for the best. Quenneville likely wouldn’t have made the team and now has a goal in three games for Zurich SC.
Can we agree that this was the most baffling selection of the draft? Ryan Carpenter, Brett Connolly, Adam Gaudette, and Vinnie Hinostroza were all available. Sean’s point makes a lot of sense in that Seattle needed to take someone from the Blackhawks. It’s also better for the 25-year-old to get as much ice time as possible, even if that means playing in Switzerland. It was highly unlikely he would have suited up for the Kraken, and it was likely a matter of time before he was on the move to another NHL team or sent down to the AHL.
In a month’s time, we will see how the Kraken roster shakes out. Will Larsson’s game be elevated by a better defensive partner? Will Bastian consistently stay in the lineup and round out the bottom six? Will selecting Quenneville from the Blackhawks haunt Seattle? All of these questions will be answered when the puck drops at T-mobile Arena when the Kraken face the Vegas Golden Knights.
Kristy has been contributing to The Hockey Writers since March of 2021. She is thrilled to be putting her journalism degree to use and covers both the Nashville Predators and New Jersey Devils. Kristy is also a co-host of Chicks & Sticks, a weekly Youtube show produced by THW. You can follow her journey on Twitter @InStilettosBlog and Instagram SkatingInStilettos.