The 2021-22 NHL season starts Oct. 12. With training camps open, NHL.com is taking a look at the three keys, the inside scoop on roster questions, and the projected lineup for each of the 32 teams. Today, the Seattle Kraken.
Coach: Dave Hakstol (first season)
Last season: did not play; will debut as expansion team this season
1. Goaltending and defense
The Kraken’s biggest strength is in goal with starter Philipp Grubauer and backup Chris Driedger. Their second-biggest strength is their defensemen, led by Mark Giordano, Jamie Oleksiak, Vince Dunn and Adam Larsson. Their biggest question mark is their offensive firepower. To win, especially against opponents with high-end offensive stars, Seattle might have to rely on goaltending and structure.
2. Offensive surprises
The Kraken have offensive depth. Eight forwards reached double digits in goals last season, and that doesn’t include Jaden Schwartz, who has scored at least 19 goals in a season five times. What they don’t have is anyone who scored more than 17 goals last season, and what they might need is someone to surprise. Will players slotted higher in the lineup than before break out with more opportunity or struggle against tougher matchups? Do they have a William Karlsson? When the Vegas Golden Knights won the Pacific Division in their inaugural season of 2017-18, Karlsson came out of nowhere to become a No. 1 center, scoring 43 goals after never scoring more than nine in a season before.
Who are the Kraken? How do they play? How do they beat you? The way they’re built and the way coach Dave Hakstol started training camp, it seems they will be gritty and aggressive. Giordano and forwards Yanni Gourde and Brandon Tanev could be tone-setters as players who earned spots in the NHL as undrafted free agents. But this is an expansion team of players from elsewhere who have not played together before, and everyone needs to come together on and off the ice, bonding as teammates and developing an identity as a team. Hakstol has plans for team-building events the week before the regular-season opener at Vegas on Oct. 12.
Theoretically, because this is an expansion team, each position is up for grabs. Realistically, because of a lack of young players pushing for jobs and a lack of time before the regular season, the roster and depth chart seems fairly set. Seattle needs to find combinations quickly so players have a chance to develop chemistry. Forwards Mason Appleton, Nathan Bastian, Ryan Donato, Morgan Geekie and Riley Sheahan were the only skaters to play in each of the first three preseason games, perhaps an indication they are jockeying for position.
Most intriguing addition
Grubauer was a finalist for the Vezina Trophy last season with the Colorado Avalanche, voted by NHL general managers as one of the three best goalies in the League. He left a Stanley Cup contender for an expansion team by choice, signing a six-year contract as an unrestricted free agent, and said the Kraken will shoot for the Stanley Cup in their inaugural season. He could be a difference-maker, will be expected to be one and is embracing the challenge.
Biggest potential surprise
Geekie has scored 13 points (six goals, seven assists) in 38 games in his NHL career. But Seattle selected the 23-year-old in the 2021 NHL Expansion Draft from the Carolina Hurricanes, who took him in the third round (No. 67) of the 2017 NHL Draft when Kraken general manager Ron Francis was the Hurricanes GM. Obviously the front office sees potential, there is opportunity at center, and Geekie has gotten off to a good start. He scored two goals in the Kraken’s 5-3 win against the Vancouver Canucks in their preseason debut Sunday.
Ready to break through
Jared McCann has bounced from the Canucks to the Florida Panthers to the Pittsburgh Penguins to the Kraken, and he has never scored more than 19 goals or 35 points in an NHL season. But he filled in well at center for the Penguins last season when Evgeni Malkin was injured, and if he gets a chance to be the No. 1 center between Schwartz and Jordan Eberle, McCann has a chance to break out. They’re good passers, and he has a good shot. He also has gotten off to a good start, scoring in Seattle’s preseason debut.
Defenseman Vince Dunn (fantasy average draft position: 143.1) is poised to take the next step after scoring 20 points (six goals, 14 assists) in 43 games with the St. Louis Blues last season, the best points-per-game average (0.47) of his NHL career. Dunn will have an opportunity to capture the top power-play spot for the Kraken after having to play behind valuable defenseman Torey Krug last season and Alex Pietrangelo prior to that. Dunn is one of the more intriguing fantasy defenseman options in later rounds and could be among Seattle’s leading scorers with at least 40 points in its inaugural season. — Pete Jensen
Jaden Schwartz — Jared McCann — Jordan Eberle
Marcus Johansson — Alex Wennberg — Calle Jarnkrok
Ryan Donato — Morgan Geekie — Joonas Donskoi
Brandon Tanev — Riley Sheahan — Nathan Bastian
Mark Giordano — Jamie Oleksiak
Vince Dunn — Adam Larsson
Haydn Fleury — Carson Soucy