In anticipation of the Seattle Kraken’s inaugural season, we at The Hockey Writers will be doing a deep dive into each player projected to be on the opening-night roster. This installment will focus on Alexander Wennberg, who the Kraken signed as a free agent.
2020-21 Team: Florida Panthers
2020-21 Season: 56 GP, 17 G, 12 A, 29 P
Type of Acquisition: Free Agency
Wennberg joined his third NHL franchise when he agreed to terms with Seattle on the first day of free agency. He was drafted by the Columbus Blue Jackets, where he stayed for the first six years of his career, and last season, he played with the Florida Panthers. He will now fill a major hole at center in Seattle.
While the Kraken desperately need centers, Wennberg’s new contract could have been better. He signed a three-year deal worth $4.5 million annually. His last deal (signed with the Blue Jackets), which paid him $4.9 million annually for six years, was bought out after just three seasons. Seattle likely won’t have to do that on this deal, but Wennberg will be earning a top-six salary when he has produced more like a decent middle-six center in recent years.
Before joining the NHL, Wennberg had success in international competition playing for his native Sweden. He is a three-time silver medalist at the World Junior Championships – twice in the U20 tournament and once as a U18 player. He played one season in the Swedish Hockey League after being drafted, scoring 16 goals in 50 games with Frolunda HC.
In six seasons with the Blue Jackets, Wennberg scored double-digit goals just once, in 2016-17, when he produced 13 goals and 59 points and earned a lucrative contract extension. His lone season in Florida showed some glimpses of hope, with 17 goals and 29 points in 56 games. The Panthers had a surprising run to the playoffs that ended in the first round in 2020-21; Wennberg scored a goal and an assist in their six-game series against the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Value to Seattle
Wennberg might not live up to his cap hit, but there is promise that he could succeed in his projected role with the Kraken. Now that center Yanni Gourde will be out for the first two months of the season, Wennberg could earn a spot on the team’s top line playing alongside strong wingers, highlighted by Jordan Eberle and fellow free-agent signee Jaden Schwartz, which could elevate his play.
His trajectory is upwards after his stint with the Panthers, but there are still concerns about his play. His power-play statistics from the last three seasons don’t provide much optimism, but his penalty-killing and even-strength play could improve in the right environment. The quality of his teammates should help, with Eberle, Schwartz, and others, and while his goal-scoring numbers likely won’t be replicated, they are encouraging.
Florida had a middle-of-the-pack power play, but their second unit struggled mightily last season. Over 75% of their goals came from their top unit. On the second unit, Wennberg finished with 3 goals and 6 points despite averaging almost 2 minutes of ice time per game on the man advantage. He wasn’t utilized as often on special teams with the Blue Jackets but struggled all the same. Among players to appear in over 50 games for the franchise, he ranked 12th in power-play ice time per game and 26th in power-play goals per 60 minutes.
All eyes will be on Wennberg when training camp unfolds. With Gourde on the shelf, he could realistically find himself centering any of the team’s top three lines, depending on chemistry. He likely won’t see much time on the power play but could earn some shorthanded ice time. Starting fresh in Seattle should be a great opportunity for Wennberg to reignite his two-way game and emerge as a factor down the middle.
Covering the New York Islanders and Seattle Kraken for The Hockey Writers. MBA Sports & Entertainment Management Candidate at Hofstra University. Formerly Marketing Intern with the American Flag Football League & Operations Intern for the Long Island Nets, G-League Affiliate of the Brooklyn Nets.