After Saturday night’s win against the Florida Panthers, the Seattle Kraken have completed approximately the first quarter of their inaugural season. Relative to expectations, it has definitely been a disappointment. But the Kraken’s play has been on an upswing recently, with three wins in the last four games. Those wins have not been easy marks either, having come against the Washington Capitals, Carolina Hurricanes, and Panthers, who currently sit one-two-three in the NHL standings. With Seattle hoping to string together a streak and get back into relevance, it’s time to look back at their first quarter and hand out awards. Without further ado, here is the first installment of four in The Hockey Writers’ Kraken Superlatives series.
Most Valuable Player: Jaden Schwartz
Honorable Mentions: Jordan Eberle, Jared McCann
After departing the St. Louis Blues during the offseason and signing a lucrative contract with the Kraken, Jaden Schwartz was expected to carry much of the offensive load for Seattle. Through the first quarter of the season, he has done just that, contributing 16 points in 21 games to tie for the team lead. His underlying numbers corroborate his offensive production, as he leads the team in Goals For per 60 (GF/60) and sits third in expected GF/60 (xGF/60). Though Schwartz has not matched the goal-scoring prowess of linemate Jordan Eberle, he has served as his primary set-up man, leading the Kraken with 12 assists. He also leads the squad in Wins Above Replacement (WAR) with 0.6, highlighting his overall contributions.
For several years, Schwartz’s calling card has been his defensive play. He has been known as one of the best defensive forwards in the NHL for quite some time. However, he has not lived up to that billing yet this season, with much worse defensive play than Blues fans became accustomed to seeing. If Schwartz can improve that side of his game and reach the level he is capable of, he could become even more valuable for the rest of the season.
Best Sniper: Jordan Eberle
Honorable Mentions: Jared McCann, Brandon Tanev
Schwartz’s team-leading 16 points is shared with Eberle, who has managed the same number. However, while Schwartz has been racking up assists, Eberle has been on a sniping tear, netting 11 goals in 21 games. As a six-time 20-goal scorer, Eberle was expected to pick up the slack for Seattle in its inaugural season. What was not expected was for him to score at a 43-goal pace, by far the highest of his career. Though his torrid pace is unlikely to continue, he is well on his way to a career-high in goals.
Eberle’s shining moment came on Nov. 4 in a 5-2 win over the Buffalo Sabres. He potted his third, fourth, and fifth goals of the season to achieve the first hat trick in Kraken history, earning the first star of the game honors. Seattle has struggled to score throughout its first 21 games, but that is no thanks to Eberle. He will no doubt be a huge part of turning that around in the last three-quarters of the season.
Best Defenseman: Vince Dunn
Honorable Mentions: Mark Giordano, Jamie Oleksiak
The Kraken’s expansion pick from the Blues, Vince Dunn has performed quite well on a pairing with Adam Larsson. The former second-round pick leads all Kraken defensemen in points, with nine, and is fourth in assists among all Seattle players, with eight. Dunn’s defensive play was a question mark heading into the season, as he had always had strong results but in exclusively sheltered roles. He has largely proven himself, maintaining offensive production while providing slightly above-average defensive play. Dunn is second among Kraken defensemen in WAR behind only Oleksiak, and will likely only improve as he grows more accustomed to his bigger role and as the team continues to jell.
Most Surprising Player: Ryan Donato
Honorable Mentions: Jared McCann, Brandon Tanev
Signed as a free agent to a league-minimum contract, Ryan Donato has been a pleasant surprise on Seattle. He started his season with a bang, scoring the first preseason and regular-season goals in franchise history, and has only continued to impress from there. Donato has managed four goals and seven points, good for ninth on the team, and has had a strong start on the defensive side of the ice as well. Perhaps most impressively, he is fourth among all Kraken skaters in WAR. Though his production has not blown anyone away, he has been an excellent addition for someone who could not secure a contract until mid-September.
Most Disappointing Player: Philipp Grubauer
Honorable Mentions: Morgan Geekie, Calle Jarnkrok
This selection should come as no surprise, as Philipp Grubauer has failed miserably to live up to his contract thus far. The Kraken signed Grubauer to a six-year, $35.4 million deal this offseason, hoping he could replicate his strong 2020-21 performance which culminated in a Vézina Trophy nomination. Instead, he has been among the worst goaltenders in the entire league, with a .890 save percentage, 3.03 goals-against average, and a league-worst -12.52 goals saved above expected. He has no doubt been the biggest reason for Seattle’s struggles in the first quarter.
Fortunately, there are signs that Grubauer may be finding his footing. In his past three games, he has saved 3.09 goals above expected, helping the Kraken to wins in two of them. When Grubauer arrived in Colorado for the 2018-19 season, he had a similarly rough start before heating up and posting strong numbers overall. If he can follow a similar trajectory with the Kraken, there may yet be some hope for their inaugural season.
By the time the halfway mark of the season rolls around, the Kraken will have hopefully managed to get themselves into a much stronger position. The players highlighted here will undoubtedly be paramount in that pursuit.
Jake is a reliable source for the Seattle Kraken here at The Hockey Writers. Hailing from New York City, he is an avid fan of all things hockey and is always involved with the sport, whether that means writing, watching, or playing. An enthusiastic advocate for sports analytics, Jake will often weave them into his posts to support his ideas. More of his work can be found on his Substack page, and he is a contributor with @hky_tapetalk on Instagram. For any questions or inquiries, Jake can be contacted on his Twitter, @jakezrihen.