The Seattle Kraken will select second overall at the 2021 NHL Entry Draft, two days after their expansion draft. Before the recent draft lottery, there was no consensus top prospect among the media; however, the most current mock drafts now heavily favor defenseman Owen Power being selected first overall by the Buffalo Sabres.
The Kraken’s first-round selection will hinge on their expansion roster and the Sabres’ decision. General manager Ron Francis’ drafting history, dating back to his tenure with the Carolina Hurricanes, may also play a factor.
Assuming they keep their pick, instead of trading down to gain more assets, the Kraken will have an opportunity to select the player who best meets their post-expansion draft needs. Below I explore their three best options, assuming Power goes first.
Beniers Could Play Middle-Six Minutes in 2021-22
Matthew Beniers has consistently ranked at the top of various prospects lists — including our March rankings — more than anyone else, apart from Power. I think the Sabres may consider Beniers if they plan to move on from Jack Eichel and/or Sam Reinhart. Nonetheless, multiple outlets, including NHL.com and The Athletic, project the Kraken to select the 18-year-old center.
Beniers, a teammate’s of Power’s at the University of Michigan, produced at a point-per-game pace his freshman season, scoring 10 goals and tallying 14 assists. He helped the United States capture gold at this year’s IIHF World U20 Championship, and he also played six games at this year’s IIHF World Championship. Scouts regard him as the draft class’s best all-around center, as he plays equally strong in all three zones; THW has compared his skill set to the likes of Jonathan Toews, who, along with similar talents like Sidney Crosby and Anze Kopitar, have won a combined eight Stanley Cups and a plethora of major awards.
Francis may select Beniers if he is targeting someone who may not be ready for top-line minutes his rookie season but can crack the middle-six and develop alongside experienced wingers. Young centers like Kirby Dach and Jack Hughes made their clubs’ opening day roster their rookie years, but they played a reduced role to acclimate to NHL talent. Alternatively, Seattle could retain Beniers at Michigan, especially if some of his top-prospect teammates return as well.
Francis has selected one first-round center in prior drafts; in 2017, he drafted Martin Necas — who plays right wing now — 12th overall but only called him up for eight games during his first two seasons. Necas’ development in the Czech Republic and the AHL prepared him well for his 2019-20 Hurricanes campaign, as he potted 16 goals and 20 assists over 64 games — averaging 14:10 of time on ice.
Hughes Would Succeed an Expansion Defensive Core
In addition to Power, the top of the draft rankings features a multitude of defensemen. Francis helped form one of the league’s strongest blue lines in Carolina, calling up Jaccob Slavin and Brett Pesce in 2015 and selecting Noah Hanifin that same year — a move that played a role in current GM Don Waddell acquiring Dougie Hamilton in 2018. Francis also selected defensemen in the first round in 2014 (Haydn Fleury) and 2016 (Jake Bean).
Since the draft lottery, Luke Hughes’ draft stock has risen among some prominent outlets. Sporting News and Bleacher Report project the Kraken to select Hughes after the Sabres draft Power — although others, such as NHL.com, could see one of the draft’s younger prospects falling as low as eighth.
Related: THW’s 2021 NHL Draft Guide
Hughes, who won’t turn 18 until September, played this season with the U.S. National Team Development Program. In 38 games, he recorded six goals and 28 assists. The 6-foot-2, 176-pound blueliner uses his speed, puck control, and quick decision-making to catch opponents off-guard. Defensively, he needs to improve his decision-making in order to, for example, know when to challenge opponents versus hold his defensive position. He will enter his freshman year next season at Michigan, where his brother Quinn developed for two seasons before being selected seventh overall in 2018.
The Kraken may select a less experienced defenseman with high upside for the future while leaning on a veteran blue line for a couple of seasons. The Vegas Golden Knights assembled a competent veteran defense in the 2017 Expansion Draft with the likes of Brayden McNabb, Deryk Engelland, and Trevor van Riemsdyk — further tuning it with the addition of Shea Theodore and elevating the productivity of Colin Miller. If the Kraken follow suit, they may not need to fill an immediate void and can onboard the youngest of the Hughes brothers.
Don’t Sleep on Edvinsson or Eklund
The Kraken may decide to select the most NHL-ready player, even if players with higher upside are available, for two reasons. First, their expansion draft roster may be shallow at a certain position, requiring them to fill a void via the draft or a separate transaction. Second, if the Kraken draft an expansion roster comparable to the 2017 Golden Knights, then they may draft an NHL-ready player with hopes of qualifying for the playoffs in a weak Pacific Division.
Defenseman Simon Edvinsson and winger William Eklund may not consistently rank among the top three prospects, but they have the advantage of playing at a professional level in Sweden. Edvinsson, 18, amassed 27 regular- and postseason games with the second-tier HockeyAllsvenskan and first-tier SHL this past season. The 6-foot-5, 203-pound blueliner possesses exceptional skating & puck-moving abilities, drawing comparisons to perennial Norris Trophy finalist Victor Hedman. He is projected among major outlets to be drafted as high as third (Anaheim Ducks) or as low as eighth (Los Angeles Kings).
Eklund, who will turn 19 in October, played this past season entirely with Djurgårdens of the SHL and was named the league’s rookie of the year. Averaging 15:29 of time on ice, he scored 11 goals and recorded 12 assists in 40 games. The 5-foot-10, 172-pound winger plays up-tempo and is not afraid to compete along the boards against larger opponents.
Most outlets project him to be selected between fifth and seventh — falling either to the Columbus Blue Jackets, Detroit Red Wings, or the San Jose Sharks.
“One of the more NHL-ready players, his offensive potential and reliability in his own end could see him wearing (Sharks) teal sooner rather than later.” — Josh Bell, Sporting News.
Professional experience against larger, faster competition favors the young Swedes. That said, they would likely need time to adjust to NHL-sized rinks.
Seattle’s approach to the draft cannot be directly compared to the other 31 teams. They must strike a balance between drafting an NHL-ready expansion roster, tuning the roster through separate transactions, and signing undrafted prospects, like Luke Henman, before implementing their plans for the future.
I acknowledge I have left out several players whom the media project to either be drafted near second overall or will likely be drafted before Edvinsson and/or Eklund. Talents like Brandt Clarke, Kent Johnson, and Dylan Guenther are still possibilities for the Kraken. That said, don’t be surprised if Buffalo drafts Beniers, leaving Power on the table for Seattle.