Not only do the Seattle Kraken need to improve their NHL roster, but the organization also needs to fill out an entire American Hockey League (AHL) roster as the Coachella Valley Firebirds kick off their inaugural season in 2022-23. So far, the organization has six players signed that are expected to start the season in the AHL including Ryker Evans, Tye Kartye and Luke Henman. With that in mind, here are six pending unrestricted free agents the Kraken could sign to play in Coachella Valley.
Chase De Leo – Center
Chase De Leo would be a fantastic signing as not only can he contribute at the AHL level, but he is a local product that was born less than a two-hour drive from where the Firebirds will be based. The 26-year-old led the Utica Comets last season with 35 assists and 56 points in 55 games and was the only player on the team who averaged above a point per game that skated in more than 10 games. He also appeared in two games for the New Jersey Devils but failed to hit the scoresheet.
De Leo is a versatile player that can play all three forward positions. He also has a great track record in the AHL with 278 points in 420 games and can help the younger players on the team that may be struggling, as he has been in their shoes. Not to mention, he would be a fan favourite as a local player returning home. As such, he should be at the top of the Kraken’s list when it comes to AHL free agent signings.
Ryan MacInnis – Center
If the Firebirds want to add some size down the middle, then Ryan MacInnis may be the best option. At 6-foot-4, 201 pounds, he is a physical presence who can make the opposition pay on the ice and on the scoreboard. Last season with the Rochester Americans, he scored 11 goals and added 27 points in 49 games playing more of a depth role on the team. He also played one game with the Buffalo Sabres back in January.
MacInnis would be a good addition because he adds depth down the middle. He can protect some of the younger players who are making the jump to the AHL and could be a leader as well, as he is one game short of 300 for his AHL career. While he may not be a goal scorer, he adds value to the lineup and should be a big hit with the new fanbase.
Glenn Gawdin – Center
Originally drafted in the fourth round by Calgary back in 2015, Glenn Gawdin has developed into a strong number one center option in the AHL. This past season with the Stockton Heat, he finished with 15 goals and 50 points with 16 of those points coming on the power play. He also showed he can be dangerous while shorthanded finishing with a goal and three assists while on the penalty kill.
Gawdin has shown strong leadership qualities and a desire to win throughout his career. In 2017-18, as captain of the Swift Current Broncos of the Western Hockey League (WHL) he finished the season with 56 goals and 125 points leading them all the way to the Memorial Cup. While he has developed into more of a playmaker at the AHL level, he has shown he will do whatever it takes to win and can set a good example for everyone on the team. Not only can he provide strong play in the AHL, but he also has NHL experience which means he could be used as a call-up should the Kraken suffer injuries next season.
Brogan Rafferty – Right Defence
Brogan Rafferty has developed into a solid AHLer over the past two seasons. He scored four goals and finished with 24 points in 65 games last season helping the San Diego Gulls clinch a playoff spot. He also showed his versatility playing both sides of the ice and was very effective on the power play finishing second in assists with 10.
Despite being 27, Rafferty is fairly new to the pro game having only played 122 AHL games. One major reason for the lack of games was the Vancouver Canucks keeping him on the NHL roster during the 2020-21 season where he played just one game. Although his 2021-22 season could be seen as a down year, that partially had to do with him not playing for such an extended amount of time. This is a player with a lot of potential who was on the AHL All-Rookie Team just three seasons ago. The Kraken would be wise to add him to the Firebirds roster if he is available this summer as a free agent.
Dennis Gilbert – Left Defence
Dennis Gilbert is not a flashy defenceman but knows how to get the job done. The 25-year-old scored six goals and added 17 assists last season for the Colorado Eagles and his 23 points were the most he has had since playing for the Chicago Steel of the United States Hockey League in 2014-15. He is best known as a smooth skater who isn’t afraid to block shots and can create turnovers by knocking the opposition off the puck in his own zone.
Before he was injured, Gilbert was playing on the Eagles’ top pair, as he was partnered with Jordan Gross, who led all AHL defencemen in scoring with 65 points with his main job being to cover the point at all times. With the Firebirds’ blue line expected to be a more offensively minded group next season, it will be key to have players like him on the roster that can hold down the fort and be a shutdown defenceman that doesn’t take too many risks.
Charlie Lindgren – Goaltender
The plan for next season looked like Joey Daccord would be the starter in the AHL, but now with Chris Driedger sidelined for the first half of the season, the Kraken will need to make new plans for the Firebirds. This is a perfect opportunity to bring in experienced AHL goaltender Charlie Lindgren. Last season with the Springfield Thunderbirds, he posted a 27-7-1 record with a .925 save percentage (SV%) and a 2.21 goals-against-average (GAA). He also played five games with the St. Louis Blues going a perfect 5-0 with a 1.22 GAA and a .958 SV%.
The Kraken need better goaltending depth and Lindgren fills that need. Signing him not only stabilizes the AHL goaltending picture but creates internal competition which is something every organization needs. Not to mention, if starting goalie Philipp Grubauer also goes down with an injury early in the season, they have another goaltender with NHL experience that they can call up. He is a safe option that brings experience and reliability to a team with major goaltending issues.
New Team Means New Opportunities
The Kraken would be wise to invest heavily in the Firebirds next season. They have a fantastic opportunity to give players more opportunities than they may have had in other organizations while also building up their depth pool. While AHL development is not always front and center, it is important for Seattle to build this team properly to ensure stability and success for Coachella Valley in the future.
Adam is excited to be joining The Hockey Writers as part of the Seattle Kraken and Vancouver Canucks team. His work can also be found at area51sportsnet.com where he covers the Vancouver Giants of the Western Hockey League.