Despite entering the 2022-23 season with an improved forward group, the Seattle Kraken have many questions left unanswered. Perhaps the biggest question is the center ice depth chart, as there appear to be too many players for too few spots. The group of centers, appearing to be led by 19-year-old Matty Beniers, carries a great deal of uncertainty only weeks from the first regular season game.
In a group consisting of Beniers, Yanni Gourde, Alexander Wennberg, Shane Wright, and Morgan Geekie, every spot appears to be up for grabs. The pressing issue for Seattle, however, is where they see Wright fitting. If Wright is indeed a part of their 2022-23 roster, then the rest of the center group will shuffle accordingly. Each player has their strengths, but who is the better fit for the opening night roster?
Matty Beniers burst onto the scene near the end of the 2021-22 season, registering nine points in 10 games. The University of Michigan product signed his entry-level contract with the Kraken following the end of his collegiate season, making his debut shortly after. In the nine games that followed, he tallied three goals and six assists.
The 2022-23 season will be Beniers true test as to whether he can maintain his play over a full season. The young forward appears to be the favorite to snag that top-line center spot, leaving the other three positions open for the taking. And Beniers seems to have more support this year, as the Kraken brought in Oliver Bjorkstrand and Andre Burakovsky in the offseason.
Using the improved forward depth around him, Beniers won’t have to carry the load on the first line. Better yet, he can leverage the new support as a way to improve his game. His line’s success sets the tone for the rest of the forward group, which was something that was lacking in the 2021-22 season.
Gourde was one of the more consistent players for the Kraken in 2021-22, finishing second in team scoring with 48 points. The Kraken assistant captain looks to continue his success, and his preseason results have reflected that. In two games, he’s recorded three points.
Gourde likely finds himself on either the second or third line going into this season, which will add a layer of depth scoring. With that additional talent provided from offseason moves, he’ll find himself in a great situation. Players such as Burakovsky, Oliver Bjorkstrand, Jared McCann, and Jordan Eberle could all find their way onto Gourde’s line by season’s end.
His veteran status separates Gourde a bit, as his closest competition for the middle-six center slots will be 2022 fourth overall draft pick, Shane Wright. For Gourde, the competition could improve his game. His game benefits from more minutes, as he creates so much on the ice. Whether he has the puck or not, he gets to the right places and makes things happen. If he ends up playing on the third line, his impact could make their third line among the best in the Pacific.
After being hailed as the consensus first-overall pick, Wright fell to fourth and was selected by the Kraken. Now, he enters his first NHL training camp with a lot to prove. After recording 93 points in only 63 games last season for the OHL’s Kingston Frontenacs, he arrives at the professional level with a chance to win a middle-six spot.
Competing with Gourde, Wright has a tough task in front of him to play into the top-six. With that said, his play style works well in a top-six setting. Placing him next to some of the team’s best players, you could see him thrive, as his raw skill alone should be enough for him to carve out a spot in that middle-six.
Wright appears to be in line to begin the season in Seattle, which bodes well for his chance at getting meaningful NHL minutes. With his talent, it seems difficult to see him starting his NHL career outside of the top-nine. His main competition will be with Gourde and Wennberg. Both of them have been solid NHL contributors for the past six seasons, which creates a challenging hill for Wright to climb.
Wennberg’s first season with the Kraken was his most productive since his 59-point season with the Columbus Blue Jackets in 2016-17. His 37 points were fourth-best on the team, behind only McCann, Gourde, and Eberle. As Seattle’s main third-line center, his contributions were notable, given the lack of offensive depth the Kraken possessed in their lineup.
Now entering the second year of his contract, Wennberg enters the 2022-23 season with uncertainty clouding his position. With Gourde and Wright battling it out for the middle-six, it appears that Wennberg might find himself in a lesser role. His offensive tools may have progressed, but his defensive ability will be of great value in a possible fourth-line slot.
A development to follow is how Wennberg might find an additional piece of motivation from competing with Wright. Looking to keep his spot in the middle-six, you could see a push from Wennberg in the preseason and early in the season, and he might also find that additional push from Geekie. With Wennberg appearing to slide down to the fourth line, Geekie could find himself on the outside looking in.
2021-22 signaled Geekie’s first full NHL season. Playing in 73 games for the Kraken, the 24-year-old Geekie registered 22 points. Holding down the fourth-line center role, he found himself struggling at times in his limited ice time. In order to make an impact on the 2022-23 roster, he has to dig deeper to find some consistency in his game.
Geekie appears to be the odd man out at this point in the preseason. The addition of Wright seems to have knocked the Strathclair, Manitoba native out of the center rotation, though the conversation might become more difficult if Geekie impresses in the remaining preseason games.
That said, Geekie would have to do a lot in order to bump someone out of the lineup. Given his waiver eligibility, he seems destined to be an injury replacement to start the year.
The Kraken center group appears to be set up with a combination of Beniers, Gourde, Wright, and Wennberg. That’s a group that could be successful in both the short term and down the line, given the youth of Beniers and Wright. If Wright and Beniers get into a good rhythm, the Kraken have a great group of anchors for their re-vamped lines.
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Brian Finlayson is a lifelong hockey fan, and has spent recent years writing for hockey-based websites and blogs. Now, Brian joins THW as a Seattle Kraken contributor and is very excited to help cover the NHL’s newest team.
Brian spends most of his time as a student, working towards a communications & media degree at Canadian Mennonite University. He hopes to combine his loves of sports and storytelling to find a career in sports media.