Jordan Eberle checked into his hotel under a fake name when he traveled to Seattle for the 2021 NHL Expansion Draft.
After he appeared on stage at Gas Works Park on the north shore of Lake Union as one of the original members of the Seattle Kraken on July 21, the forward found he couldn’t pay for a meal in the city. Someone always picked up the check.
“I played in Edmonton,” said Eberle, a member of the Edmonton Oilers from 2010-17, “and it was crazier than that.”
Early last week, Eberle and his wife, Lauren, were walking with their 1 1/2-year-old daughter, Collins, through Pike Place Market near the famous spot where the fishmongers toss their catch to attract tourists. Eberle was wearing a mask to guard against the coronavirus.
Still, a fan recognized him.
“It was wild,” Eberle said.
It is amid that atmosphere that the coaches and players will take the ice for the first practice of training camp Thursday at Kraken Community Iceplex, their new, three-sheet practice facility in Seattle.
Their first preseason game is against the Vancouver Canucks in Spokane, Washington, on Sunday. Their first regular-season game is at the Vegas Golden Knights on Oct. 12.
“The city is so excited to have us,” goalie Philipp Grubauer said. “You get that feeling in the city from the fans. You get the excitement from the guys. I haven’t seen too much, but what I’ve seen is incredible.”
Hopes are high especially considering the Golden Knights won the Pacific Division, finished fifth in the NHL standings and reached the Stanley Cup Final in their inaugural season of 2017-18. Grubauer said the Kraken are shooting for the Stanley Cup.
But this is a different team, and these are different circumstances. Just one example: The Kraken have had about a month less to go from the expansion draft to training camp than the Golden Knights did, and this is the COVID-19 era.
The Kraken held a videoconference after free agency so coaches, players and staff members could introduce themselves to each other. Players scrambled to find places to live.
Most of the players have been skating informally at the practice facility for about two weeks, and some have gotten together away from the rink. But for the most part they’ve just been sharpening up and settling in. They haven’t discussed systems and really haven’t had a chance to bond.
Training camp is where the Kraken will start turning a roster of guys who haven’t played together before into a team.
“I think the biggest thing, for me, anyways, is just developing chemistry,” Eberle said. “The quicker you can establish lines and kind of get guys going together, get a feel for how they play, the better it’s going to be. … That, and I’m sure just getting a structure and a mentality of how we want to play. It’s going to have to come quick.”
Grubauer said the key will be finding an identity.
“Part of it is having meetings with the coaches and going over that,” he said. “And then, obviously, you can talk about it, but you still have to perform and do it on the ice. So it’s going to be interesting to see the first day of training camp.”
Grubauer expects the Kraken to be fast, based on how high the pace has been in informal skates, and to be equipped to win low-scoring games.
“I think we’re not going to be a team that’s going to come out like Colorado and they have to score, like, six goals to win a game,” said Grubauer, who came from the Colorado Avalanche, the highest-scoring team in the NHL last season (3.52 goals per game). “I think it’s going to be really, really structured.”
Eberle compared the Kraken to the New York Islanders after playing the past four seasons for them. Each of the past two seasons, the Islanders haven’t had anyone rank higher than 38th in scoring in the NHL in the regular season, but they have lost to the Tampa Bay Lightning one round from the Cup Final and watched them go on to win the championship.
“I would imagine it’s going to be quite blue-collar, hardworking,” Eberle said. “You look at the roster, that’s kind of what I see, anyways. I mean, I’m coming from a team that you could argue is very similar to that. Doesn’t really have any superstars or guys that take over the game. Win by committee. And that’s kind of the mentality I’m sure we’ll take on.”
Eberle said he isn’t nervous at all, despite the attention, despite the unknowns, even despite the expectations caused by the Vegas comparisons.
“I think it’s such a unique opportunity once you wrap your head around it,” he said. “I’m just excited to get to camp and start going and start putting some pieces together and start working on our own story.”
Photo courtesy: Seattle Kraken