The preseason is upon us. As the leaves continue to change, Seattle Kraken opening night is under two weeks away. The Kraken will want to put out a strong, winning line up from the get-go, and as they say, defense wins championships. As the players become familiar with each other and chemistry develops, we’ll start to see a better picture of how the team will look as they open the season Oct. 12.
The Kraken coverage team at The Hockey Writers took part in predicting which players will be ‘Krak’ing the opening night lineup. In this edition, Adam Kierszenblat, Sean Raggio, Jake Zrihen and Nick Pinkerton give their projections.
|Jamie Oleksiak||Mark Giordano|
|Haydn Fleury||Adam Larsson|
|Vince Dunn||Carson Soucy|
Seattle’s defense core should be strong this season. Although they may not produce offensively, they should be able to hold the other team’s top lines at bay. Each pairing has a shutdown guy and a more offensively minded player. They should be one of the stronger units in the league.
The top pair of Giordano and Dunn has the potential to be the Kraken’s leading defensive scorers. Giordano is two seasons removed from a 70+ point season. Dunn has shown flashes that, given more of an opportunity than he was seeing in St. Louis, he could really live up to his offensive potential. Giordano’s defensive responsibility allows for Dunn to be able to take chances in the offensive zone a bit more freely than if he were partnered with someone who wasn’t as defensively proficient.
This really has the potential to be a breakout season for Fleury. He will be able to explore offensive opportunities, similarly to Dunn, as he’ll be paired with Larsson who has proven himself as a shutdown defender year after year.
The bottom pair isn’t going to look like other teams’ bottom pairs, it’s not necessarily the defense’s weakest links. Soucy and Oleksiak are going to be the team’s shutdown pair. These two should be line-matched against lines like Connor McDavid’s line, Nathan MacKinnon’s line and the ‘Perfection Line’, to name a few. They’ll be relied on for their defensive prowess and physical play, and could find themselves closing out tight games, especially down the stretch.
Each of these pairings is intended to have one defensively-minded player in order to afford his partner the opportunity to play more freely offensively. The first pairing finally offers Dunn the chance to take on a big lineup role, something he never got with the St. Louis Blues. He will be able to rove around the ice, chipping in on offense with his excellent transition game. Though he is somewhat prone to turnovers, his partner Larsson is very strong defensively and should have no problem covering for him.
The second pair lacks the defensively deficient player of the other two duos. Both Giordano and Oleksiak are very good in the defensive zone. However, Giordano is only two years removed from a 70-point campaign, and having a reliable partner in Oleksiak may allow him the ability to turn the clock back and contribute offensively. Regardless, this pair will be very difficult to score on.
Lastly, the third pair of Soucy and Fleury is in the same mold as the first. Soucy is a reliable defensive player, taking some weight off of Fleury’s shoulders. The latter, a former seventh-overall pick, has struggled to establish himself at the NHL level, but perhaps a steady partner will finally allow Fleury to put it all together and become the high-end defenseman he was touted to be.
The Kraken’s top two pairings should split two defensemen with offensive upside, as well as two defensemen with size. My top pairing features the two most experienced Kraken defensemen in Giordano (949 games) and Larsson (603). Giordano’s productivity has tailed off the past two seasons (14 goals and 43 assists in 116 combined games), but he can still generate chances at even-strength and on the power play. The 6-foot-3, 208 pound Larsson gives Giordano a physical, defensively reliable partner who excels at limiting opponents’ scoring chances.
Last season with the Edmonton Oilers, he started 70.2 percent of faceoffs in the defensive zone and still managed a 41.3 Corsi for percentage (CF%) and 91.8 on-ice save percentage. In other words, he allowed a modest number of shots for his time in the defensive zone, and he accounted for goaltenders saving 91.8 percent of shots with him on the ice. Larsson is the only right-handed defenseman of this group.
The second pairing of Oleksiak and Dunn started together in the Kraken’s second preseason game against the Edmonton Oilers. The 6-foot-7, 255 pound Oleksiak not only knows how to physically intimidate opponents, but he also skates more nimbly than his frame lets on. He has solidified himself as a top-four defenseman, having averaged a career-high 20:29 time on ice last year with the Dallas Stars. The 24-year-old Dunn recorded six goals and 14 assists in 43 games last season, achieving the best productivity rate of his career. If healthy, he could build on last year and contribute a point every other game.
Soucy is a lock for Seattle’s third pairing. Throughout his young career, the 27-year-old has played primarily in the defensive zone and has excelled at limiting quality scoring chances. The past two seasons, goaltenders have saved over 93.7 percent of shots when he is on the ice. Soucy is also reliable with the puck, committing just 34 giveaways in 105 games over the past two seasons. I project 25-year-old Fleury to start opening night alongside Soucy, as the two played together in the team’s first preseason game against the Vancouver Canucks. He may end up platooning the sixth defenseman role with Jeremy Lauzon. Lauzon reunites Jay Leach, with his former Providence Bruins head coach, who is now a defensive-minded assistant to head coach Dave Hakstol.
The four Kraken writers have spoken, and here are the results. This lineup was curated based on the number of times each player appeared in that position. There was a tie for Giordano’s defensive partner on the top pair, but due to Larsson solely receiving top-four placement, he gets the nod over Dunn. Despite some thought that Lauzon starting in the minors could prove beneficial, he gets the nod as the seventh defenseman. You could call it a coincidence, but Nick was spot-on.
If the injury bug bites, things are definitely going to be shaken up and could make for some interesting combinations. The lineup definitely favors defense over offense, despite offering the more offensive defenders the ability to explore that side of their game. If the defensive corps is any indication, this team should be able to keep scores on the lower end of the spectrum and may help give the Kraken the edge in one-goal games.