In anticipation of the Seattle Kraken‘s inaugural season, we at The Hockey Writers are taking a deep dive into each player. This installment focuses on goaltender Chris Driedger, whom the Kraken selected from the Florida Panthers in the 2021 NHL Expansion Draft.
Driedger has appeared in just 38 NHL games but, over the past two seasons, he has emerged as one of the league’s strongest backup goaltenders. Seattle signed the 6-foot-4, 208-pound netminder to a three-year contract at a $3.5 million annual cap hit.
2020-21 Team: Florida Panthers
2020-21 Season: 23 GP, 2.07 GAA, .907 SV%, 3 SO
Type of Acquisition: Expansion Draft (signed as an unrestricted free agent at the time of draft)
Career Summary: Minor Leagues and Early NHL Opportunities
Driedger began his major junior career in 2010-11 with the Tri-City Americans of the Western Hockey League (WHL). The following season, he succeeded in a starting job with the Calgary Hitmen, recording a 24-12-3 record, 2.80 goals against average (GAA), .896 save percentage (SV%), and three shutouts (SO). Recognizing his potential, the Ottawa Senators selected him 76th overall in the 2012 Draft. He flourished for two more seasons with the Hitmen, breaking Martin Jones‘ franchise record for career saves; he even became just the sixth goaltender in WHL history to score a goal.
Driedger bounced around several minor league teams before cementing his place on an NHL club. Playing primarily in the American Hockey League (AHL) and ECHL, he produced varying results wherever he went. For example, in his first season with the then-Binghamton Senators, 2014-15, he played in eight games and notched an impressive 2.55 GAA and .923 SV%. However, his numbers regressed significantly the next three seasons. He managed just a 4.04 GAA and .885 SV% in 10 games during the 2017-18 campaign, resulting in his relegation to the ECHL; he returned to form with the Brampton Beast, recording a 2.55 GAA and .922 SV% in 17 games.
The Winnipeg, Manitoba native made his NHL debut on March 26, 2015 in a relief role against the New York Rangers, stopping all 10 shots en route to a 5-1 loss. In total, he appeared in just three NHL games — all in relief — during his three seasons in Ottawa, compiling a 2.53 GAA and .889 SV%.
2018-2020: Florida Panthers Organization
Driedger signed with the Florida Panthers‘ AHL affiliate, the Springfield Thunderbirds, in July of 2018. He primarily suited up with Springfield but also appeared in 12 ECHL games with the Manchester Monarchs.
Playing in 32 games with the Thunderbirds, he recorded an 18-12-1 record, 2.45 GAA, and .924 SV%; consequently, in February of 2019, the Panthers rewarded him with a two-way deal. He earned his first NHL start on November 30, 2019 against the Nashville Predators and saved all 27 shots in a 3-0 shutout.
Driedger finished the 2019-20 NHL season with 12 games (11 starts), a 7-2-1 record, .938 SV%, 2.05 GAA, and an astonishing 10 goals saved above average; in simplest terms, the average NHL goaltender would have surrendered 10 more goals in those 12 games than Driedger did. He did not appear in any playoff games.
Driedger built on his 2019-20 successes with a breakthrough 2020-21 campaign. Starting 23 games, he notched a stellar 2.07 GAA (5th in NHL), .927 SV% (5th), and three SO (t-6th) en route to a 14-6-3 record. Additionally, in 78.3 percent of his starts, he finished with a SV% of .900 or greater — ranking third among goaltenders with at least 10 games.
However, he struggled in a couple of facets. While he recorded a .934 SV% at even strength (6th in NHL), he only saved 88 percent of shots while shorthanded; that tied for 25th among goaltenders with at least 10 games played. He also regressed in defending against high-danger chances; his .818 SV% was significantly down from his 2019-20 rate of .864.
Driedger appeared in three games during the 2021 playoffs against the Tampa Bay Lightning. Head coach Joel Quenneville started Sergei Bobrovsky but quickly went to his backup. Driedger got the nod for Game 2 and, despite the loss, still impressed by saving 26 of 28 shots. Quenneville went back to Driedger for Game 3 but pulled him after he conceded five goals on just 22 shots. Bobrovsky struggled in his Game 4 start, causing Quenneville to substitute in Driedger; he saved 11 of 12 shots in a 6-2 loss. He finished the postseason with a poor 3.70 GAA and .871 SV%, despite two strong appearances.
The Panthers entered the offseason in a difficult situation. Tied down by Bobrovsky’s contract — five years remaining at $10 million annually — and with top prospect Spencer Knight dazzling in his limited NHL opportunities, Florida was not in a situation to re-sign Driedger.
How Driedger Fits With the Kraken
General manager Ron Francis made a clear decision to prioritize reliable defense and stalwart goaltending during the expansion draft and free agency period. The tandem of Driedger and 2021 Vezina Trophy finalist Philipp Grubauer comprises perhaps the best duo in the Pacific Division — and one of the best in the NHL.
Both Grubauer and Driedger enter the 2021-22 season comfortably in the prime of their careers. Grubauer started 40 of 56 games with the Colorado Avalanche last season, but he did not have nearly as strong of a backup as he does now. With Driedger as the Kraken’s second option, Grubauer can rest more frequently and start, for example, 50 of the team’s 82 games. Driedger would then start 32 games — roughly the same rate he started last season — but could likely take on a higher workload if needed.
Driedger has the challenge of replicating his excellent performance the past two seasons, but this time, over the course of more appearances. Nonetheless, he will likely turn in a strong year with the defense that plays in front of him. Seattle features a set of shutdown defensemen, including Adam Larsson, Jamie Oleksiak, and 2019 Norris Trophy winner Mark Giordano. Forwards such as Brandon Tanev and Nathan Bastian provide ample defensive skills, too.
Driedger may not have the experience of a more seasoned backup goaltender, but he carries the momentum of the past two seasons into his new job in Seattle. He has demonstrated that he can compete among the league’s top goaltenders, at least at even strength.
However, in order to earn more starts with the Kraken and perhaps land an attractive new contract after these next three seasons, he will need to improve his penalty-killing skills. Goaltending coach Andrew Allen will hopefully work with Driedger to fine-tune his ability to see around screens, establish his position at the top of the crease, and control rebounds to limit second-chance opportunities.
We at THW have plenty more “Meet the Kraken” articles in-store, so be sure to check back for the latest player profiles. We also plan to project defensive pairings and special teams units prior to the start of the season; in the meantime, you can check out our predictions for the Kraken’s forward lines on opening night.
Nick covers the Seattle Kraken for THW. At his alma mater, Santa Clara University, he served as sports editor for the campus newspaper but carved out time to cheer on his San Jose Sharks nearby. His professional experience spans reporting, copywriting, and video production for sports, gaming, and tech brands.