The Seattle Kraken have completed their preseason and are making final adjustments before entering their inaugural campaign. Concurrently, they are putting the finishing touches on Climate Pledge Arena and marketing their brand through merchandising. The buzz around the NHL’s 32nd franchise will crescendo on Tuesday, Oct. 12, as the team plays its first regular-season game against the previous NHL newcomer, the Vegas Golden Knights.
Below I preview the Kraken’s inaugural season, summarizing the franchise, the team roster & depth chart, the 2021-22 schedule & division opponents, and lastly, my outlook and predictions for this year.
Seattle Kraken Franchise Profile
One cannot evaluate the Kraken’s entrance into the NHL without drawing a comparison to the wildly successful Golden Knights, who debuted in 2017. Then-Vegas general manager George McPhee assembled what was, on paper, a lukewarm roster but turned out to significantly exceed expectations individually and collectively. Their improbable run to the 2018 Stanley Cup Final has created, at the least, moderate expectations for the Kraken, as they had the same Expansion Draft rules and a similar salary cap.
Kraken general manager Ron Francis has pieced together his roster with an experienced group, with many players in their prime — and some with over a decade of NHL experience. Like Marc-Andre Fleury did with Vegas, Seattle defenseman Mark Giordano suits up for his second NHL team after being a franchise fixture in Calgary for 15 years. The team also features a couple of Francis’ draft picks from his time with the Carolina Hurricanes; both defenseman Haydyn Fleury and center Morgan Geekie have the opportunity to assume a larger role in Seattle than what they had on a deep Hurricanes club.
Las Vegas instantly rallied around the Golden Knights due to the team’s community relations and immediate success on the ice. Unlike Sin City, Seattle already hosts several major professional teams, cultivating one of the most enthusiastic sports markets in the United States. As they did with, for example, the Sounders of Major League Soccer, Seattlites instantly embraced the return of professional hockey to the Emerald City. The Kraken needed only 12 minutes to sell 10,000 season tickets, and now, they’re setting new records for jersey sales.
Related: Seattle Kraken 2021-22 Season Preview Section
Additionally, the arrival of the Kraken continues a rich hockey legacy in Seattle and the Pacific Northwest — dating as far back as the 1917 Stanley Cup-winning Seattle Metropolitans of the Pacific Coast Hockey Association. The region has birthed organizations like the Seattle Totems, Seattle Thunderbirds, Everett Silvertips, and more through the years. Western Hockey League (WHL) alumni Carey Price, Mathew Barzal, Patrick Marleau, and Spokane-born Tyler Johnson & Kailer Yamamoto are just a handful of players who have contributed to the game’s growth in the region.
Roster and Projected Depth Chart
The Kraken initially assembled their roster via the Expansion Draft — selecting one player from each club, except Vegas — and later, free agency. The result is a fairly deep, well-rounded forward group, along with stout defense & goaltending. The team continues to fine-tune its makeup over the next few days to meet the 20-player NHL roster requirement.
Additionally, Francis hired former Philadelphia Flyers head coach and Toronto Maple Leafs assistant Dave Hakstol as the franchise’s first head coach. His assistants include former Providence Bruins head coach Jay Leach, fellow Maple Leafs colleague Paul McFarland, and goaltending coach Andrew Allen, formerly of the Buffalo Sabres.
The Kraken currently have approximately $8.4 million in available cap space. This buffer may help them negotiate new deals with 2022 restricted free agents (RFAs) and unrestricted free agents (UFAs), such as RFAs Mason Appleton & Jared McCann and UFA Mark Giordano. Alternatively, if the Kraken is in playoff contention heading into the March 21 trade deadline, they can allocate that cap space to acquire a significant piece or two.
The Kraken forward core lacks superstar talent, but it nonetheless features several players in their prime — and/or could set career-highs in 2021-22. Several of these forwards broke out last year, such as McCann and Appleton, while some look to turn back the clock to more productive campaigns.
One of those forwards is Jordan Eberle, a former 34-goal scorer whom Hakstol will especially look to on the power play. He will likely join a top line with Jaden Schwartz and McCann. If Schwartz can rebound after last season (eight goals, 13 assists in 40 games), he may chip in around 55 points. His center, McCann, comes off a surprising 2020-21 campaign in which he scored at a 61-point pace — 14 goals and 18 assists in just 43 games. He will need to keep up his productivity to, in part, account for the loss of Yanni Gourde for the start of the season.
Fans should not overlook the potential bottom-six forwards, as they feature a few unique talents of their own. As mentioned earlier, center Morgan Geekie is trending toward a full-time spot on the roster — having contributed two goals and two assists in the preseason. Depth pieces like Brandon Tanev and Nathan Bastian round out the group with strong defensive skill sets.
Related: Kraken’s Geekie Impressive in First 3 Preseason Games
As with the defensemen, I do not expect the Kraken to call up any of their top prospects this season — at least not for a majority of the way. Their biggest prize is 18-year-old center Matty Beniers, who will play his sophomore season at the University of Michigan. That said, once the season is over, he could at least join the team’s interim American Hockey League affiliate, the Charlotte Checkers.
Last August, THW writers projected their Kraken forward depth chart for opening night — factoring in Gourde’s absence. Since then, Seattle has signed a couple of experienced depth players in Riley Sheahan and Ryan Donato. The two of them have produced well during the preseason and could supplant one or two guys in the bottom-six. Below is what I think is a more realistic picture of the Kraken’s opening night forwards:
|Left Wing||Center||Right Wing|
|Jaden Schwartz||Jared McCann||Jordan Eberle|
|Marcus Johansson / Calle Järnkrok||Alex Wennberg||Joonas Donskoi|
|Calle Järnkrok / Ryan Donato||Morgan Geekie||Mason Appleton|
|Brandon Tanev||Riley Sheahan||Nathan Bastian|
Francis has built his defensive core with experience, size, and defensive reliability. As the cornerstone to the blue line, 38-year-old Mark Giordano provides leadership, offensive productivity, and durability. He has missed just 15 games the past six seasons, and even in the latter stretch of his career, he has still averaged 24:06 of time on ice.
24-year-old Vince Dunn has the most offensive upside among Seattle defensemen, scoring three goals in the final two preseason games. He comes off a 2020-21 season in which he recorded six goals and 14 assists in 40 games. With Giordano quarterbacking the first power-play unit, Dunn will likely run the second unit.
The trio of Adam Larsson, Carson Soucy, and Jamie Oleksiak averages out to approximately 6-foot-5 and 225 pounds. Each of these blueliners has their specialty but will all likely use their bodies to limit quality scoring chances in front of the net. Here are THW’s projected defensive pairings for opening night:
|Left Defenseman||Right Defenseman|
|Mark Giordano||Adam Larsson|
|Jamie Oleksiak||Vince Dunn|
|Carson Soucy||Haydn Fleury|
|Extra: Jeremy Lauzon|
The Kraken’s greatest strength for the next few years will likely be its goaltending. The tandem of 2021 Vezina Trophy finalist Philip Grubauer and emerging backup Chris Driedger enter this season as perhaps the best duo in the Pacific Division.
Grubauer impressed last year with a .922 save percentage (SV%), a 1.95 goals-against average (GAA), and a league-best seven shutouts, starting 40 of 56 games. He played behind a Colorado Avalanche defense that led the NHL in fewest shots against, but in the prime of his career, he should be able to keep the Kraken in most games.
Related: Meet the Kraken: Goaltender Chris Driedger
Additionally, he will likely not have to start as frequently, as he has a reliable, competitive backup in Driedger. The 27-year-old ex-Florida Panther has appeared in just 38 NHL games but has put together a resume for one of the league’s best backups in the last two seasons. In 35 games between 2019-20 and 2020-21, he recorded a .931 SV%, 2.07 GAA, and four shutouts.
Division Overview and Schedule
Seattle joins the Golden Knights, the three California teams, and the three westernmost Canadian clubs in the Pacific Division. I have previewed the Pacific Division extensively but will provide a summarized divisional profile below. Additionally, I highlight key stretches of the Kraken’s 2021-22 schedule; you can also refer to my schedule deep-dive for a closer look.
Pacific Division Profile
Once again, the Golden Knights should run away with the Pacific Division. They feature perhaps the best defensive core in the league with Shea Theodore, Alex Pietrangelo, and Alec Martinez, among others. Robin Lehner has earned a starting role in net — .923 SV%, 2.43 GAA since 2018-19 — and Laurent Brossoit comes off a successful 2020-21 campaign to serve as Lehner’s backup. Add in an electric forward core of captain Mark Stone, Jonathan Marchessault, Max Pacioretty, Alex Tuch, and newcomer Evgeni Dadonov, and Vegas has little chance of falling from the top.
With perennial Hart Trophy candidates Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl, the Edmonton Oilers should be, to many, a lock to finish second in the division. They have bolstered their depth scoring with Zach Hyman and have added defensive leadership in Duncan Keith. Mike Smith returns after a 2020-21 renaissance season and, should he replicate last year’s performance, will help easily vault Edmonton back into the postseason.
The Kraken fit into a larger group of teams that should contend for playoff spots — but are certainly not a lock. Seattle, the Vancouver Canucks, Los Angeles Kings, and Calgary Flames have unique advantages that could place their team as high as third, yet they could sputter to finish as low as sixth. Vancouver is two seasons removed from nearly making the Western Conference Final. Los Angeles added Phillip Danault and Viktor Arvidsson to support Anze Kopitar, who shows no signs of slowing down in his own right. Jacob Markstrom, who finished fourth in 2020 Vezina Trophy Voting, could backstop the Flames into the playoffs. As mentioned earlier, Seattle will lean on its goaltending and physical defensive core to contend for a postseason berth.
Related: 5 Bold Kraken Predictions for the 2021-22 Season
The bottom two teams, the San Jose Sharks and Anaheim Ducks, may not challenge for a playoff spot, but they can occasionally frustrate opponents. Brent Burns and Erik Karlsson are not who they once were, but they still add a dynamic element to the Sharks’ offense. Conversely, the Ducks are witnessing the formation of a talented young forward core, and they can still receive Vezina-caliber goaltending from 28-year-old John Gibson.
2021-22 Schedule Highlights
The Kraken commence 2021-22 with a five-game road trip that starts in Vegas against their most challenging division opponent. On Oct. 23, they play their first home game, squaring off against their closest geographic rival, the Canucks.
Seattle’s opposition is relatively easy for the first several weeks but toughens up from Nov. 19 through 27. They face the Colorado Avalanche, Washington Capitals, and Carolina Hurricanes before traveling to Florida to play the Tampa Bay Lightning and Florida Panthers.
Only five of Seattle’s 14 December games feature an opponent that made last year’s playoffs. One of these foes is the Flames, who, on Dec. 23, welcome Giordano back to the Scotiabank Saddledome — for the first time in the regular season. This month gives the Kraken a chance to start separating themselves from a couple of the Pacific’s bottom-feeders.
However, the Kraken’s schedule ramps up in difficulty during the second half of 2021-22. They face perhaps their most difficult road stretch in a four-game trip from Jan. 27 to Feb. 1; in order, they will play Sidney Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins, Barry Trotz’s New York Islanders, an up-and-coming New York Rangers club, and the always challenging Boston Bruins.
Seattle closes their season with an April that features 14 games — eight of those coming as back-to-back affairs. Four of their final five games come against teams who may be competing with them for a Western Conference playoff spot — the Minnesota Wild, Dallas Stars, Canucks, and Kings.
Season Predictions & Outlook
As I mentioned in my Kraken bold predictions article, I expect Seattle to challenge for second place in the Pacific Division. The Oilers, and maybe even the Canucks, could instead find themselves finishing that high; however, while those teams boast impressive forward groups, the Kraken counter with the division’s best goaltending, in addition to a strong defense. Nonetheless, Seattle may need to settle for no lower than third to make the playoffs. The Pacific Division is significantly weaker compared to the deep Central Division and, as a possibility, may send only three teams to the postseason. Below are my Kraken team projections for 2021-22:
- Record: 42-29-11 (95 Points), second in Pacific Division
- 2022 Playoffs: Eliminated in first round by Edmonton Oilers (Edmonton is due, aren’t they?)
- Record versus Pacific Division: 14-9-3
- Record versus Golden Knights: 1-2-1
- Longest winning streak: 6
- Longest pointless streak: 4
- Number of Home Games Until the Kraken Raise a “7th Man” Flag — let’s go with…7
Additionally, I may not be a fantasy hockey guru, but I can’t resist including some of my projections for Seattle when it comes to individual performances:
- Scoring Leader: Jared McCann — 19 G, 35 A, 54 PTS
- Goals Leader: Jordan Eberle — 23 G, 28 A, 51 PTS
- Top Scoring Defenseman: Vince Dunn — 13 G, 29 A, 42 PTS
- Dark Horse Forward: Morgan Geekie — 14 G, 19 A, 33 PTS
- Dark Horse Defenseman: Carson Soucy — 6 G, 21 A, 27 PTS
- Shutouts by Philipp Grubauer — 5
- Hits from Brandon Tanev — 261
To summarize my impressions: The Kraken has a promising inaugural season ahead of them. They drafted a fundamentally sound roster, allocated their remaining cap intelligently, and progressed well as a team throughout the preseason. Hakstol will need to juggle his lineup to account for Gourde’s injury early on, but he has a handful of forwards who, like Gourde, can fill multiple roles.
The on-ice product won’t be the only way that the Kraken will succeed in 2021-22, though. They have a new arena, a marketable brand, and a feverish sports market to build long-term popularity in the Emerald City. Like the city of Las Vegas did with the Golden Knights, I expect Seattlites to contribute to a raucous home-ice advantage at Climate Pledge Arena — fueling the Kraken to a playoff berth in 2022.