The Seattle Kraken selected their first roster of players in the 2021 NHL Expansion Draft on Wednesday and first list of prospects in the 2021 NHL Draft on Friday and Saturday.
Along the way, they dropped hints about the types of players they want to acquire, the type of team they want to build and how they want to operate as an organization.
In players, they value speed, hockey sense, character and compete level. Led by general manager Ron Francis, one of the greatest two-way centers in NHL history, they want 200-foot players.
As a team, they want to be hard to play against.
“Our fans pay good money to come to the rink, and they deserve to see a team that’s going to compete hard every night, and that’s what we’re trying to establish with our culture,” Francis said Saturday from the Kraken draft room in the Space Needle. “We’re not going to win every night. Understand that. We want to make sure we go out there and give it our best, and if we lose, it’s definitely not for a lack of effort.”
As an organization, they value space under the NHL salary cap, and they’re willing to be patient and go their own way.
The Kraken did not make a trade in the expansion draft. They simply selected 30 players, at least in part because teams learned from how the Vegas Golden Knights collected extra assets in exchange for selecting or not selecting certain players in the 2017 NHL Expansion Draft.
Seattle passed on several high-profile players.
Francis said the Kraken felt they filled their needs while using only about $53 million under the $81.5 million salary cap, giving them an advantage considering the cap is flat and many opponents have cap problems.
They made only one trade to flip a player they selected in the expansion draft in the immediate aftermath, sending forward Tyler Pitlick to the Calgary Flames on Thursday for a fourth-round pick, and that pick is in the 2022 NHL Draft.
That opened more cap space and meant the Kraken had only their original seven selections in the 2021 NHL Draft.
Again, they did not make a trade. They simply selected seven players, though Francis said they did explore some moves.
“We looked at trading picks to move up, and unfortunately the players we were looking for went just before we were picking,” Francis told NHL Network during the fifth round. “Other times, you look at maybe moving back if it’s something there.”
The Kraken set a tone by making Matthew Beniers the first amateur draft pick in their history and the No. 2 pick in this draft Friday. Beniers is a 200-foot center whose coach at the University of Michigan, Mel Pearson, called him a coach’s dream on and off the ice.
They selected a goalie, two defensemen and three forwards Saturday.
The most interesting selection was defenseman Ryker Evans, who was chosen in the third round (No. 35) even though he passed through the draft last season and was ranked the No. 192 North American skater by NHL Central Scouting this season.
The choice was not driven by the Kraken’s substantial investment in analytics. It was driven by the unpredictability of this draft due to the lack of scouting amid the COVID-19 pandemic and the conviction of Seattle scouts who had been able to see him live often.
“At the end of the day, we didn’t think he was going to get to the third round,” Francis said. “And more importantly, it was something that our guys were kind of pounding the table for.”
Evans has grown to 5-foot-11, 190 pounds. He skates well; has good skill, vision and hockey sense; and scored 28 points (three goals, 25 assists) in 24 games for Regina of the Western Hockey League this season.
Director of amateur scouting Robert Kron said pretty much everyone on staff agreed Evans was the right pick in that spot.
“We felt very strong about it,” Kron said. “We knew that the market doesn’t really recognize the player, which didn’t bother us at all. We think we got a great, great player here — great kid and great player.”
The Kraken have a lot of money to spend and a lot of opportunity to offer, especially up front, when free agency opens July 28.
Francis has made it clear the Kraken will be active but also that they will be prudent, referring to contracts they signed with goalie Chris Driedger (three years; $3.5 million average annual value) and defensemen Adam Larsson (four years; $4 million AAV) and Jamie Oleksiak (five years; $4.6 million AAV) after selecting them in the expansion draft as pending unrestricted free agents.
“I think we’ll be consistent with what we have [done],” Francis said. “You saw the contracts that we submitted. They’re three years, four years and five years. I think ideally, in this cap environment, keeping the terms to where we think make sense and the dollars we think make sense helps us moving forward in the long haul.
“But certainly, we think there’s some players in free agency we’d like to have a discussion with, and hopefully we’re able to convince them to come and join our organization.”