A Deep Dive Into the Kraken’s Center Options

One of the most important factors in building a hockey team is having a deep center corps. The Tampa Bay Lightning exemplified that the past two seasons with one of the deepest center groups in the league who hoisted the Stanley Cup in back-to-back years. 

The Seattle Kraken’s selections in the expansion draft raised many questions about what direction management was taking their team. There were a handful of surprise picks or non-picks that left people scratching their heads. Here’s a look at where they stand after their first-round draft pick and who they could be targeting in free agency to solidify the center position. 

Current Kraken Center Depth

Kraken general manager Ron Francis had a few interesting omissions at the expansion draft, notably Columbus Blue Jackets center Max Domi, who was passed over in favor of 27-year-old unrestricted free agent (UFA) defenseman Gavin Bayreuther. Domi’s offensive output has fallen off since his 28 goals and 72 points in 2018-19 with the Montreal Canadiens, but he could have benefitted from a change of scenery, much like the Florida Panthers’ Sam Bennett.

Here are the Kraken’s centers and where they fit into the lineup. Most of their centers also double as wingers, according to Elite Prospects, and that flexibility will come in handy as Francis tries to construct a deep roster. 

Current Four-Line Center Projection:
First Line – Yanni Gourde
Second Line – Jared McCann 
Third Line – Calle Järnkrok
Fourth Line – Nathan Bastian

First Line – Yanni Gourde
2020-21 Season: 17 goals, 19 assists, 36 points, 56 games
Career: 80 goals, 107 assists, 187 points, 310 games

Yanni Gourde Tampa Bay Lightning
Yanni Gourde, Former Tampa Bay Lightning Center (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Yanni Gourde was a key component of arguably the best third line in the NHL last season, or at least during the playoffs. He posted a career-high 56 Corsi for percentage (CF%) and was trusted in all situations. He could improve his faceoff percentage, but if his consistently improving shooting percentage is any indication, he can pull it off.

Gourde is a gritty forward who can contribute offensively as a two-time 20-goal scorer. However, he isn’t a true No. 1 center. He is a fantastic 3C on a great team or a strong 2C on a good or building team.

Second Line – Jared McCann 
2020-21 Season: 14 goals, 18 assists, 32 points, 43 games
Career: 66 goals, 89 assists, 155 points, 353 games

Jared McCann has figured out his offensive production over the past three seasons. His points per game have increased from .39 to .53, to a career-high .74 this past season. He earned mid-six ice time and was utilized more as a winger with the Pittsburgh Penguins. He had a 58.5 CF%, which has also been trending upwards over the past three seasons.

McCann is a player on the rise, and given the opportunity to be a top-six forward with the Kraken, he should thrive. He played little on the penalty kill last season but saw time on the Penguins’ power play. He may be a decent mid-six center but could really succeed as a top-six winger. 

Third Line – Calle Järnkrok
2020-21 Season: 13 goals, 15 assists, 28 points, 49 games
Career: 94 goals, 117 assists, 211 points, 508 games

Calle Järnkrok is another versatile forward who can play both center and on the wing, and both the power play and penalty kill. He earned a career-high .57 points per game this past season, and while he hasn’t played much at center the last few seasons, most of his first five seasons in the NHL were played at the position.

Calle Jarnkrok Nashville Predators
Calle Järnkrok, Former Nashville Predators Center (Photo by John Russell/NHLI via Getty Images)

Järnkrok will add good center depth and experienced penalty killing to the Kraken. While he can play on the wing, he has more experience centering than Nathan Bastian. Having him center the third line should offer some stability to the bottom six. 

Fourth Line – Nathan Bastian
2020-21 Season: 3 goals, 7 assists, 10 points, 41 games
Career: 6 goals, 7 assists, 13 points, 48 games

Nathan Bastian is coming off his first full NHL season and he did well on a struggling team and playing bottom-six minutes. He earned more penalty killing than power-play time and didn’t see a lot of time at center. He loved to throw the body around, with 136 hits, and was not afraid to give up his body, blocking 25 shots. 

Bastian brings physicality to Seattle’s bottom six. He doesn’t have a ton of offensive upside, but if he can put up 15-25 points a season, improve at the faceoff dot, and commit to a fourth-line role, he could find a home there with the Kraken. 

There are other options, like Colin Blackwell and Mason Appleton, but they are better suited on the wing. Blackwell is known for his versatility and can be used to fill holes throughout the lineup. Appleton is coming off a career year, and shouldn’t be buried in a fourth-line role.

Matthew Beniers – The Future of the Kraken

Matthew Beniers became the first draft pick in Seattle Kraken history when he was drafted second-overall

THW’s Matthew Zator profiled Beniers, here’s an excerpt on his NHL potential:

“If all goes to plan, Beniers could become another Toews or Bergeron in the NHL. He’s got the skills and work ethic to be a top-line center that can be counted upon in all situations and consistently put up 70-75 points a year in a starring role. He will also be one of his team’s best faceoff men each and every season.”

While it isn’t certain whether he will return to the University of Michigan or make his NHL debut, what is certain is that Beniers has the potential to be the Kraken’s true No. 1 center, and given the comparisons to Toews and Bergeron, we may see the “C” on his chest one day.

Free Agency – The Kraken’s Signing

Alexander Wennberg
Alexander “Alex” Wennberg is so far the only center that the Kraken have signed since free agency opened. While not the top-line center that they need, he’s still a dependable player that will help the team throughout the next few seasons. Despite his drop in offensive production, he plays in all situations and is very well disciplined.

Alex Wennberg Florida Panthers
Alex Wennberg, former Florida Panthers center (Photo by Jamie Sabau/NHLI via Getty Images)

THW’s Ryan Gagne covered the signing and said that Wennberg has a skillset that would be valuable to the Kraken, and he isn’t wrong. Being that the Kraken are thin down the middle and he can play on the power play and penalty kill, he could see a bigger role than he saw with the Florida Panthers. Depending on his wingers, he could see an increase in production as well. It’s already a good sign that he recorded a career-high 17 goals this past season, with a shooting percentage of just over 20 percent.

Wennberg will be making $4.5 million a year for the Kraken for the next three seasons.

Free Agency – The Ones That Got Away

Phillip Danault 
Even if Beniers forgoes the rest of his collegiate career, he’ll need a bit of time before he reaches his full, top-line center potential. In the meantime, the Kraken should have looked to sign Phillip Danault to fill that role. He was looking for a raise, despite a dip in offensive production, based on his defensive prowess. He has had at least a 51 CF% over the past three seasons, including a career-high 55.1 CF% in 2019-20.

The Kraken will be seeing a lot of Danault as he signed a six year contract with their divisional rival, the Los Angeles Kings.

Derek Stepan
Derek Stepan is a veteran who would bring leadership and help build chemistry in a pieced-together locker room. He could have been the Kraken’s third-line center. However, Gourde will be sidelined at the start of next season due to shoulder surgery. Stepan could have stepped in and picked up those minutes, both at even strength and on special teams. 

RELATED: Kraken Could Get Leadership & Experience In Veteran Derek Stepan  

Stepan signed a one year deal with the Carolina Hurricanes. He may have a lesser role, but the Hurricanes are expected to continue their run of strong play the last three seasons and have a shot at a decent playoff run. It makes sense he’d want what appears to be a shot at the Stanley Cup.

Potential Post-Free Agency Center Depth Chart Projection

Potential Center Projection With Gourde
First Line – Yanni Gourde 
Second Line – Alex Wennberg
Third Line – Calle Järnkrok
Fourth Line – Nathan Bastian 

Potential Center Projection Without Gourde
First Line – Alex Wennberg
Second Line – Calle Järnkrok
Third Line – Colin Blackwell
Fourth Line – Nathan Bastian

YouTube player
Former Penguins forward Jared McCann scores a goal while diving to put the Penguins up 3-0.

With or without Gourde in the lineup, head coach Dave Hakstol needs to utilize McCann as a top-six winger. Doing so would give him more of an opportunity to build on last season’s success and the Kraken a deeper lineup than they have now. Having players who can play on the wing and at center is helpful, but using them in a lesser role just to fill a need may not benefit the team or player. 

The Kraken loaded up their defense corps during the expansion draft, and if they further solidify their center depth, they can set themselves up to emulate the Vegas Golden Knights’ successful inaugural season. For now, this is how they stack up.

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