The Seattle Kraken are heading into their second season following an offseason filled with exciting moves that should bolster the team’s lineup. They’ve added several players through free agency or the NHL Entry Draft that should pay dividends for the team in the immediate future. This article is going to look at those joining the team’s forward group and project what their lines will look like on opening night.
While we still don’t have a clear picture of general manager Ron Francis’ plan, we can see that he’s taken steps that could shave at least a year off the team’s build. Toward the end of the season, he got the ball rolling by extending Jared McCann at a $5 million cap hit through the 2026-27 season and signed André Burakovsky to a $5.5 million deal that expires the same year. He also added Oliver Bjorkstrand via trade, who is locked in at $5.4 million through the 2025-26 season.
To me, these moves say that Francis wants to be more competitive now, but he really has the future in mind. As the salary cap (hopefully) continues to rise, and those players enter their prime, those deals could become bargains.
The Kraken also look to have an infusion of young and exciting talent in their lineup. Matty Beniers is geared up for his first full NHL season after scoring nine points in his first 10 NHL games at the end of the 2021-22 season. Meanwhile, Shane Wright should be in the lineup for at least a nine-game trial run and could stick long-term.
The team is heading into the 2022-23 season with a lot of excitement, despite expectations not being super high. Now it’s time to project the opening night forward lines, so let’s do it.
Opening Night Forward Line Combination Projection
This is going to be one of those times where objectivity has to prevail over personal preference. What I may want these line combinations to be, is different from what I think they’re going to be. Given what we’ve seen from head coach Dave Hakstol, it’s tough to predict. However, this is my official take, so I’ll be sticking with it.
|Jaden Schwartz||Matty Beniers||Jordan Eberle|
|Oliver Bjorkstrand||Shane Wright||André Burakovsky|
|Jared McCann||Yanni Gourde||Brandon Tanev|
|Ryan Donato||Alexander Wennberg||Morgan Geekie|
This was definitely tough for me. Beniers should be the team’s top center to open the season, both to give him a shot at what’s potentially his future role, and because of the excitement that it will generate for the fanbase. He’ll be flanked by Jordan Eberle on the right because Beniers spent more time on ice (TOI) with Eberle than any other Kraken forward during his 10 games — 141:19 to be exact.
Jaden Schwartz will be on the left as Eberle was the forward he spent the most time with at 404:19 TOI. While Schwartz and Beniers have yet to play together, Schwartz is a veteran and also a Stanley Cup champion; he should be able to help build chemistry despite that missing link.
This second line will be a completely new one for the Kraken as each piece was added during the offseason. This unit has it all; Bjorkstrand can score, Burakovsky can distribute, and Wright can be responsible defensively. Each of these players will be able to contribute both as goalscorers and facilitators, but simplifying their roles as I did just illustrates how dangerous this line can become.
It’s interesting to note that McCann, Burakovsky, and Bjorkstrand are all about the same age, and have recently enjoyed career years after demonstrating gradual offensive growth over the past three seasons. The fact that they’re entering their primes at about the same time, and are all at good cap hits with years of term left is a huge win for the Kraken. Oh, and speaking of McCann…
McCann will be looking to emulate the 27-goal performance he enjoyed on a team that was relatively incapable of scoring goals in its inaugural year. He could easily be in the top six and may end up there at some point, but regardless, he’ll be getting special teams time and now has less pressure to be the team’s top scorer.
McCann played just under 230 minutes TOI with Yanni Gourde, and just under 100 minutes TOI with Brandon Tanev before Tanev’s season-ending injury, so there’s some chemistry there to work with. It’s even more beneficial that Gourde had a strong offensive year and Tanev was on pace for 25 goals prior to his injury. It’s also important to note that he spent 655:42 TOI with Eberle last season, more than with any other Kraken forward, and could find himself sliding into the first-line, left-wing role at some point as a result.
The fourth line is where things get interesting and question marks arise. The Kraken have four players who were lineup regulars in their inaugural year, and there are only three spots available for them. Alex Wennberg’s quiet 37 points were his best since the 2016-17 season, and he played in all situations. Ryan Donato, the owner of the first regular-season Kraken goal, returned to the team after initially not receiving a qualifying offer, and is coming off a career year. He’s looking to build on that, and could even flip with Tanev on the third line at some point.
THW’s Adam Kierszenblat has long been a proponent of Morgan Geekie’s potential, and that’s why I gave him that 12th forward spot. I don’t hate Joonas Donskoi, but the 30-year-old’s inability to score last season has given me serious questions that have bumped him from my starting lineup. His having a .01 wins above replacement (WAR) rating last season helped firm up my decision. While he played in all situations and was decent defensively, I still have him on the outside looking in.
“The Kraken have a solid top nine going into the season. There are still questions on whether or not Wright will make the team, but based on the way Seattle has promoted him in the offseason, it makes me believe he will get every shot to make the team. The big question is can Schwartz bounce back after a rough season due to injury? If he can return to the 50-point player he was in the past, the Kraken should have no problem putting the puck in the net. Expect big years from players like Eberle, Bjorkstrand, McCann, and Burakovsky as Seattle looks to put the disappointment of year one behind them.”
For the Kraken to make the playoffs, they’ll need a lot of luck from within their division. Despite their offseason additions, they’re not at a point where they’re going to bulldoze teams and contend for the divisional title; if they can sneak into the playoffs, it would be as a wild card team. Nonetheless, they’ve taken a good step forward, and I’d argue they shaved a year off their build with their offseason acquisitions. However, there were too many question marks that needed answering from their inaugural season for me to set super high expectations. One thing I can say for certain is that the Kraken have become a lot more interesting to watch heading into their sophomore season.
Ice-time stats taken from Natural Stat Trick